Yesterday my local garbage company switched out my old broken garbage can for a new one. As I started to roll it across my driveway I noticed something ironic about it; the can that I try so hard not to fill with plastic is made with the very thing I try to avoid. My shiny new can is made from hard polyethylene, in other words it is plastic.
I probably wouldn’t have noticed this had I not just finished Susan Freinkel’s new book Plastic A Toxic Love Story.
Freinkel starts her book with the story of the day she decided to notice how much plastic her world included by writing down everything she touched. By the end of the day she had filled four pages in her note book.
I have a love hate relationship with plastic. I do concede plastic has saved my life. I have a pacemaker which I learned is made from a form of plastic. Hospitals use plastic for everything from delicate equipment to blood bags for easy and safe transport.Long time readers may remember I started a drive to have plastic gift cards recycled by the companies who sell them. What bothers me most about plastic is how it has changed our society. Just 50 odd years ago our grandparents recycled, reused, made from scratch or went without. Now we are a throwaway society that is quickly filling up our landfills and oceans with discards that will take centuries to break down. Meanwhile the chemicals used to make better and tougher plastic are leaching into our bodies and groundwater and there seems to be no end in sight to the damaging effects of plastic.
Freinkel looks at our love of plastic (a generic term for the many types of different synthetic materials that make up the family of malleables we use today) by looking at 8 products that have changed our culture to give us the history of plastic. The book is not an indictment of plastics, rather it is the start of the serious talk we need to have if we are to change the way we treat the planet. The book is well written, easy enough for anyone to understand yet contains a primer on what plastic really is.
Two chapters stood out for me, the one on toys and how we got to where we are; with rows and rows of cheap plastic toys of every shape and color and the one that tells the story of Beth Terry famous for her plastic free life.
We cannot all be Beth, but after reading Freinkel’s book we may want to try.