Guide Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

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This is neither a dry environmental text nor alarmist rant. The title of the book is appropriate. The problem solvers who created our early synthetic polymers had no idea of the consequences their products would create for the future. They wanted to make life easier and better, and their stories are fascinating. Believe me, she gets them all: made from fossil fuels, full of toxic chemicals not just the polymers but the mystery additives, about which I am incessantly ranting , poisoning the oceans and harmful to wildlife, seldom actually recycled mostly downcycled , and on and on.

She takes us to China where most plastic products are produced and where most of our plastic recycling is done, noting the working conditions of the employees who labor for a fraction of what an American worker would be paid. And we visit the Neonatal Unit of a hospital where premature babies are kept alive in plastic boxes with plastic tubing running through their bodies, plastic that saves their lives in the short-term only to have damaging effects from endocrine disrupting chemicals as their systems develop later on.

What I loved? She not only tells us phthalates like DEHP in PVC are harmful, she explains exactly how they operate in the body in a way that any lay person like me can easily understand. The book is full of gems like that. Freinkel goes on to explain the history of plastic bags and bottles, how they came to replace paper and glass, the grassroots efforts now being waged to either eliminate them, in the case of bags, or get manufacturers to take responsibility for their recycling, in the case of bottles, and the strategies used by the American Chemistry Council to defeat these efforts, strategies she compares to those employed by the tobacco industry.

But lest you think Susan Freinkel is an activist, keep in mind that she is a journalist reporting a story. In each section of the book she is careful to report various sides to the issues at hand. Looking for solutions, Freinkel explains technologies like bio-plastics and oxo-degradable plastics — you know, the ones with the mystery additives that cause them to break down.

It also requires us to address the careless, and sometimes ravenous, habits of consumption that were enabled by the arrival of plastic and plastic money — a symbol for which there is surely no better symbol than the maxed-out credit card. Sure, Freinkel portrays me as extreme. But then, I describe myself that way. And Freinkel writes that taking the challenge to collect and examine her own plastic waste for a week helped her become more conscious of her shopping choices. One was how often my purchases were made on the basis of convenience. But it is not prescriptive. While it ends with a general call to action, it provides no recipe for action, either on the personal or collective level.

Freinkel is a journalist, not an activist. View all 3 comments. An absolute eye opener. As someone who calls herself eco-conscious, I am already aware of the dangers bit and pieces of plastic pose to our health and environment. But I must say I have been oblivious to the history and the science of plastic, and I also refused to think about plastic as a material upon which so much of mankind's modern convenience and, to some extent, survival depends.

And to me, plastic is plastic, it is an evil embodiment that we need to strive to banish, starting with the pl An absolute eye opener. And to me, plastic is plastic, it is an evil embodiment that we need to strive to banish, starting with the plastic bag. But I was wrong and, boy, I could not have been so wrong! Freinkel not only has opened my eye to the myriad of complex processes and the sprawling and highly networked world of the plastic industry, but she has also made me realise that not all plastic is plastic read: evil.

By tracing the story of mankind's infatuation with plastic and, eventually, its distaste to it, Freinkel made very good points: That humans have forged a permanent relationship with plastic and that saving the planet does not require purging plastic, instead it requires changing our relationship to it. This is a brilliant book, one of the best non fiction that I have ever read. For one, it is very well written.

Freinkel, a seasoned science journo, masterfully breaks down entire plastic processing processes into chewable chunks for the average reader. She showcases her excellent research by packing her storyline with information, facts and figures from both sides of any plastic-related debate without suffocating the reader. This book also showcases great storytelling which makes this a rare breed of popular non fiction.

I swear, I will never look at a plastic garden chair the same way again. The icing on the cake is the fact that Freinkel is not writing this book to push a particular environmental agenda. She is presenting the story as such; her ambition is to draw a more or less complete picture that depicts our love and hate relationship, and in her words, toxic, with plastic.

Sure enough, she has some aspired goals, and that is to educate people about choices. But it is harmless when compared to some of the environmental books out there, where readers walk away from it feeling guilty and judged. On the other hand, this one leaves readers feeling informed Finally, Freinkel excellently dissected various cases of individual plastic purges, some rather extreme ones, and policy changes that have miserably failed or gloriously succeeded in altering that relationship.

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The success stories are inspiring, and in the failures we find lessons to be learned. On top of that the optimism infused in Freinkel's writing will surely leave readers empowered. There is hope that change is possible; that we can "detox" and make the relationship a sustainable one. Jan 15, Danielle rated it really liked it. I received this book as an e-galley from NetGalley. After reading it I now know more about plastic than I ever thought possible. This is not necessarily a bad thing, I just had no idea how much there was to know about plastic.

Freinkel looks at plastic through the lens of ordinary plastic things we encounter each day with each chapter devoted to a specific plastic object:comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card. Each chapter delves into the spec I received this book as an e-galley from NetGalley. Each chapter delves into the specific type of plastic involved in making the item, the history of the item itself and it's production, and the larger implications.

Although she definitely touches on the environmental impact of plastic the book is not a flat out plastic is entirely evil stop using it now type screed. It is a very well researched book that is designed to make you think about plastic and its uses for good or ill. It definitely opened my eyes to just how much plastic exists in my life. With all the information about the types and manufacturing of plastic it is pretty science heavy, but is still very readable.

It's just not a light read. Feb 04, Cynda rated it really liked it Shelves: grassroots-movements , read , informative , sociology-culture , reading-mostly-nonfiction , science. I became interested in this topic several years ago when I heard of the sea of trash that contaminated the drinking water of the Intuits, then their breast milk and will contaminate all their future generations of people. We have so polluted the Earth that the Inuit who live in the Artic Circle, a place I long thought of as mostly pristine, is in fact contaminated! So back to the book. Susan Freinkel does not write the best boo I became interested in this topic several years ago when I heard of the sea of trash that contaminated the drinking water of the Intuits, then their breast milk and will contaminate all their future generations of people.

Susan Freinkel does not write the best book she could have. She does not always complete the thought. When Freinkel writes of plants that exude plastic matter onto their leaves, plants that could be grown as a cash crop, Freinkel says that critics disapprove of this crop in farm fields because it would be fewer farm fields for raising livestock.

But she does not point out how to solve that stated problem. What I propose--not a new idea: People eat lower on the food chain by including in their diets Meatless Mondays and vegetarian packed lunches. Why so important. Livestock costs plant acreage, fresh water that which went into the plants and then that which went into the livestock. If we ate fewer meaty meals, we would have farm fields for plastic-exruding plants. So why do I give Plastic 4 stars?

Because Frienkel said what often needs to be said when it comes to climate change: Individual action and government agency--both--must take responsibility for our shared problem of global contamination by whatever destructive force, including plastic. Until this idea becomes a commonply expressed thought, I will be upticking such comments.

May 06, Miina Saarna rated it really liked it Shelves: reading A very educational and eye-opening read. This book gives a great overview of the entire history of plastics, both the positive impact plastics have had on our daily lives as well as the more unpleasant sides. An excellent read, strongly recommend. May 09, Elsie Hulsizer rated it really liked it. This is a must read for anyone concerned about the environment. Most of all the book tells how plastic has changed our lives -- from the first toy a baby plays with to the IV bag providing succor to the dying elderly.

Plastic has not only provided us with things, it has changed our relationship to those things. Freinkel reminds us that we had to learn to throw plastic cups away. Plastic has turned us into the disposable society. It has pervaded our lives. Plastic has also pervaded our environment.

Traces of it are found in our blood, possibly causing early puberty in young girls and making other subtle changes. Plastic lighters, bottles, caps and other detritus bob around in the ocean for years. Plastic bags and cups skitter across the landscape and clog our storm sewers. I was struck by the irony that plastic was developed as a way to use the byproducts of petroleum refining. What was once a waste became a useful product and is now a waste again. Freinkel excels in her discussion of possible solutions to the physical, cultural and political barriers to solving the problem.

The plethora of different polymers, all requiring different recycling processes and the difficulty of separating the many products in the waste stream is a major problem. Farther inland, recycling is even more challenging. The solution Freinkel pushes is Extended Producer Responsibility. We need to put the cost of disposal into the product. Read it and act. Feb 21, Amy L. Campbell rated it really liked it Shelves: netgalley , non-fiction , reviewed , ebook , , blogged. Note: Free review copy provided by Netgalley. Freinkel does an excellent job of compressing the problems and promises of plastics into a book far more readily digestible than plastic compounds will ever be.

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The voice of the book changes from chapter to chapter as we are first presented with the inception and introduction of plastic into our society. The chapter about combs reads remarkably like Bill Bryson's "At Home", without quite so much wandering from the original topic. The chapter on plasti Note: Free review copy provided by Netgalley. The chapter on plastic chairs presents some of the ingenuity plastic allows while reminding us of the limitations of what is both functional and practical to use and produce.

This is quickly followed by issues in the medical field which are both promising and dire as we are shown the advances plastics have made in life saving technology, while possibly contributing to later health problems, and what the medical profession is trying to do about it. Perhaps the most hopeful or at least my favorite chapters in the book are regarding plastic bags and recycling.

What really happens to the plastic you throw away - Emma Bryce

It includes a reminder of how unnecessary most plastic packaging is, information about how other countries are recycling something US is not very successful at, and what steps we can take to improve our personal and national carbon footprint. Freinkel stresses the importance of plastic in our lives, while still advocating for a reduction in the areas where it doesn't matter and better solutions where it does. While there are some dire portions of the book, she leaves us with a mostly positive message without coming off as too preachy or judgmental. Consumers ought to be aware of the world we live in, and this provides a balanced and even outlook.

Aug 23, Thomas Edmund rated it really liked it. I've become a bit wary of books that look like this - after several environmentally focussed books that have left me negative about the future I don't really want any more. Luckily as a first point Freinkel is very balanced and optimistic in her writing. Yes she touches on the environmental horrors of plastic and the pseudo-island s corrupting the worlds oceans, but she also presents the topic with hope and while not many explicit solutions, good directions and philosophies to adopt although sh I've become a bit wary of books that look like this - after several environmentally focussed books that have left me negative about the future I don't really want any more.

Yes she touches on the environmental horrors of plastic and the pseudo-island s corrupting the worlds oceans, but she also presents the topic with hope and while not many explicit solutions, good directions and philosophies to adopt although she does end the book on a pondering how much plastic will we consume in In regards to content Freinkel's writing is a little heavy and I felt the prose lacked the verve and spark that many pop-science novelists possess.

Nonetheless the content was well managed and did not swing on wild tangents or delve too deeply into personal stories as many non-fiction writers do. I would have liked to hear more early plastic disaster stories and more balance in the examples. I felt like Freinkel cherry picked the organisations and places she would visit rather than trying to describe the world of plastic manufacturing as a whole. Although as mentioned earlier this is a balanced piece, that covers many viewpoints without vilifying anyone although one of the plastic lovers is portrayed as a bit of a lunatic perhaps accurately.

The strongest message of the book with Freinkel is to be commended for is trying to change the perception from plastic as a readily created, consumed and condemned product and a valuable resource that if used correctly could benefit the environment and us rather than being an uncomfortable product of convenience.

Apr 17, Norma rated it it was amazing. Through these various stories, you get to see how plastic was invented, how they came up with ideas for some of the plastic items, the impact plastic is having on the planet, and the impact plastic is having on our bodies. Instead, Susan Freinkel treats the reader as an intelligent person who can make their own choices. She is merely imparting the research that she has found on plastics and our lives.

There were a few things that disturbed me though. I did not realize how many toxic chemicals are now residing in our bodies. I do wonder if it is all due to plastic or if our other harmful habits could be contributing to this. This book will help you to become a more informed consumer. In conjunction with the Wakela's World Disclosure Statement, I received a product in order to enable my review.

No other compensation has been received. My statements are an honest account of my experience with the brand. The opinions stated here are mine alone Jun 22, Katie rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction. I was afraid to read this because I thought I would walk away depressed and miserable about the toxic imprint plastic has made on my life.

Fortunately, the author takes a much more balanced view of the subject. She discusses how plastic has become completely integrated into modern life- in good ways and bad. She does discuss some of the toxic effects of plastic, particularly BPA and PVC, but does not paint as much of a doomsday picture as many. It was rather a balanced discussion of whether we c I was afraid to read this because I thought I would walk away depressed and miserable about the toxic imprint plastic has made on my life.

It was rather a balanced discussion of whether we can amke peace with the fact of plastic in our lives by capturing the benefits of this amazing substance while also mitigating the negative affects. One thing in particular I appreciated is the continual theme that plastic has enabled a one-use only, throw-away culture.

Any discussion of better use of resources including plastic needs to cultivate more of a culture of reuse and products that are created for long-term use. Dec 02, Nicole rated it liked it Shelves: informative. A great introduction to our world of buy, use, dump with an emphasis on plastic. Certainly influential in making a few life changes myself. Ok, that was horrifying.

It was also interesting, informative, and comprehensive, but it also was just plain horrifying. Freinkel covers history of plastics, much of which I did not know, and there was much about the manufacturing and use of man-made materials that I knew only the basics about, so I feel I learned a lot from reading this book. The horrifying part is when you read about the sheer volume of plastics made and thrown out and see the breakdown of how much of that is single-use crap Ok, that was horrifying.

The horrifying part is when you read about the sheer volume of plastics made and thrown out and see the breakdown of how much of that is single-use crap. To realize more plastic was created between than all previous years combine is sobering. Two specifics that stood out for me: 1. Not one of the plastics researchers the author interviewed will microwave their food in plastic containers. Not one. It was the one thing they all agreed on. The breathing tubes, incubator, disposable gloves, warming blankets, IV lines I was going to say that is amazing, but what it is, is sobering and sad.

The one part that didn't surprise me was about recycling, or the lack of, plastics and how damn hard it is to get people to do it at all, much less correctly. Our local paper delved into this in a series of articles that summed it all up as "it's not happening.

ISBN 13: 9781617933660

And, oh, how we convenience-driven oh-so-busy people hate that. We'll waste an hour refreshing social media and watching viral videos of cats riding Rumbas, but we won't take two minutes to sort the trash we create. We'll rearrange our entire lives to follow some fad diet, but we don't want the "inconvenience" of reusable shopping bags.

Even with all the sobering information, it's not an anti-plastics book. The author points out many things plastics does for us that other materials simply cannot do or has made possible. But always in the background is the reminder that our move to a "it's disposable" mindset is wrecking not only the planet, but the way we live and think about objects. The irony of the "it's disposable" attitude is that the things we use once and toss or simply replace rather than fix are definitely not disposable in the long term.

We may use them very briefly -- often only once -- but they continue to exist long afterward, primarily as permanent garbage. The book does need to be updated. That is no longer the case. China doesn't want and won't take our trash anymore. We suck so hard at basic stage one recycling that our trash is too dirty and contaminated for them to bother with.

I fully recommend reading the book, but just know you're going to be giving everything you touch the side-eye while and after reading it. Mar 06, Elise Thanasouras rated it really liked it. I read this because I was interested in the fact that we are overrun with plastic. This informative without being too alarming, very well presented. Dec 16, Karen marked it as to-read. As seen on 60 minutes.

Jun 03, Emily rated it really liked it Shelves: non-fiction , science. I was interested in this book because of my interest in the zero waste movement. I've known of the devistating effects that plastic has on our oceans and environment and wanted to learn about how it came to be. This book illustrates the history of plastic very well, from the first comb to the dozens of polymer combinations used in manufacturing.

The first part of the book was the least interesting to me because I can't say I care how the first combs were made. I did find it useful, though, to kn I was interested in this book because of my interest in the zero waste movement. I did find it useful, though, to know where plastic comes from and why it's become so commonplace, from celluloid to PVC and many others.


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There is really nothing that plastic doesn't do. I really liked how she depicts the evolution of plastic as a material and it's pros and cons. As a biochemistry student, I found the chemical information pretty interesting, especially the last chapter which covered green chemistry and bioplastics. Susan Frenkiel takes an mostly nonbiased analytical approach to her writing which I can appreciate.

She writes in a way that respects the use of plastic in todays society while also showing the many potential side effects. I learned that there are many different approches to the plastic problem itself, including proposed bottle bills, recycling, and ocean clean up crews. It made me realize how many people are part of the picture.

I didn't know that the plastic industry is slowly moving towards more sustainable practices. She illustrated very well the challenges environmentalists and scientists have when dealing with the regulations of the ACC and FDA, in that there is no comprehensive body of law for managing the chemicals of daily life. She also had good information regarding the negative effects of plastic PVC used in plastic tubing and why there are concerns with DEHP, phthaltes, and endocrine disruptors.

It seems there needs to be more studies on that issue to really show a clear answer. I thought it was intersting how our view of poison and toxins has changed from Paracelsus' view: "The dose makes the poison" and how Theo Colborn, a zoologist challenged his theory in her work, stating that "the poison wasn't soley the dose, but also the timing of exposure. Tough, flexible, moisture proof. In bottle caps, cars, food containers, diapers, thermal vests, space suits. Polyvinyl chloride vinyl : PVC. House siding, floors, ceiling, electrical wires, pleather, pipes, medical devices.

Polystyrene: Styrofoam, razors, cassettes, coat hangers, smoke-detector, liscense-frame, pill bottles, test tubes, petri dishes, model assembly kits. Polyurethane: Tough, rigid. In spandex, lycra, condoms, Polyethlyene terphthalate PET : wrinkle-proof fiber, x-ray films, audio-videotapes, packaging, Acrylonitrile butadiene ABS : rubber, legos, recorders, phone casings, kitchen appliances. Phenolics: descendent from Bakelite. Strong, hard, can insulate electricity. In game pieces, dominoes, etc.

Nylon: DuPont. Polycarbonate: In gears, compact discs, eyeglass lenses, lab equipment, power tools, baby bottles, sports water bottles. BPA concern Acrylic: tougher than glass, can stop bullets. In airplane windows, car tailights, outdoor signs, replacement lenses. Is chemically stable and fire resistant -Phthalates are in soft vinyl: food packaging, clothing, toys, cosmetics, paint, ink, varnish, medication coating -There are about 25 phthalates, only 12 widely used -DEHP is not chemically bonded to PVC, so it can leach out in the presence of blood or fatty tissue -Toxicology textbook states that poison is a quantitative concept -Theo Colborn, a zoologist, studied the effects of pesticides and synthetic chemicals in great lakes.

Today there are anywhere from 70 to -By mimicking natural hormones, they can insinuate into special receptors on cells that activate certain genes or block hormone -Bisphenol A, the primary component in polycarbonate, a plastic in baby bottles, discs, eyeglass lens, water bottles, epoxy resins in can be foods and drinks BPA acts as a weak estrogen, can bind or block estrogen, causes health effects becoming more common: heart disease, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes -Sex hormones do opposite effects at high and low doses. At high doses they turn off the responses stimulated at low doses -Styrene: a known neurotoxin -Plastic additives are a 37 billion dollar market -Triclosan -Polyethylene terephthalate PET leaching estrogen mimickers antimony suspected Phthalates in vinyl are odorless -DEHP is an androgen, which interferes with testosterone -DEHP is mostly exposed through fatty foods.

Routes: inhalation, ingestion, skin absorption. A baby can be exposed to up to 20x the safe limit -High DEHP exposure in fetal development linked to less "rough play" in boys, obesity, immune problems, early puberty, allergies, ADD; in girls: endometriosis, miscarriage, uterine fibroids, early breast development, and altered thyroid all conditions related to hormone disruption -"Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the mind o the general public" -We have no comprehensive body of law for managing the chemicals of daily life -In Europe, the burden of proof is on safety rather than danger.

Regulators act on the principle of preventing harm before it happens, even in the face of scientific uncertainty. They limited DEHP and other phthalates. Dec 09, Drew Schwartz rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Enviros and Anyone who makes their living selling or producing plastic. Shelves: iapd-enviro-corner-books. As a plastic distributor, I like to read books about the history of plastics. As a Colorado resident, and husband to a professional conservationist, I enjoy learning more about environmental issues.

From the series: "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story" | Margriet Zwarthoed | Flickr

Two of the many stories Freinkel narrates are based on two totally unrelated objects, except for their mutual plastic characteristic. The first is the story of Baby Amy, whose mother was a drug addict and whose twin was still-born. When asked about the mysterious appeal of Frisbees by a Chinese migrant worker, Freinkel tells the worker that they are used at the beach, and then asks if the worker has ever played with one, only to be told that the worker has never been to a beach. Given the ongoing debates over the environment and green policies, no book on plastics can escape a discussion of the impact of plastic use on the environment.

Plastic is no exception. The topic concerns, of course, the increasing practice by supermarket chains worldwide of charging for the use of or banning plastic bags overall. The chapter ends on a somewhat optimistic reminder that, as consumers and responsible individuals, we can do our bit. Freinkel illustrates the point by recalling a conversation she had with a young female shopper who owned five reusable shopping bags who explained that she just wanted to be environmentally friendly. For someone who has not an artistic bone in her body, I was fascinated by the progress of the architectural design of the humble chair and how furniture designers were inspired not only by imagination and creativity but also by the flexibility, the simplicity and the difficulty of plastic.

Their respect for this material is expressed by Charles Eames who, along with wife Ray, reportedly inspired the character Eames from the movie Inception. After reading this book, I found myself extremely conscious of the objects I used which were and were not made of plastic and the possible health and environmental consequences of my actions. In this day and age where businesses have to balance profit with corporate responsibility and green credentials and consumers become more environmentally aware, one can only applaud Freinkel and her journalistic ability. Plastic serves as a timely reminder about plastic as a double-edged sword, how it impacts us and in turn, our impact on nature.


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