Author Susan Freinkel discusses her latest book 'Plastic: A Toxic Love Story'. Plastic now pervades civilization---how many of the things you see from where you are right now are plastic? It is an ingenious material whose miraculous qualities we take too much for granted, but it also sometimes has nightmarish downstream effects. The giant polymer molecules (polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, etc.) that are so marvelously cheap to mold, extrude, shape, and weave are also extremely durable. Their cheapness makes them the basic material of a throw-away culture (one third of all plastic goes into disposable packaging.) Their durability means that any toxic effects persist indefinitely in the environment.Plastic presents a problem in temporal management of the very long-term and the very short-term. How do we get the benefits of plastic's amazing durability while reducing the harm from its convenient disposability? The matter requires close and respectful coordination between short-term experts (businesses) and long-term experts (governments and nonprofits). Managing plastic well is a microcosm of managing civilization well.
Susan Freinkel is a science writer whose work has appeared in a variety of national publications including: "Discover," "Reader's Digest," "Smithsonian," and "The New York Times." For her next book, she is moving from the natural world to the artificial one. She lives in San Francisco.