Two years ago my husband and I participated in a TV science program about life without petroleum products for a day. It was astounding how many things we use that are petroleum-based. Plastic is just one of them.

The animal kingdom, the plant kingdom and the mineral kingdom have been trumped by the fourth kingdom we call plastic. Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, investigated the world of plastic that surrounds us and made some amazing discoveries.

Between the years 1941 and 1979, plastic production superseded that of  steel. During that very short time span, plastic had become “the skeleton, the connective tissue, and the slippery skin of modern life.” (page 6)

Today we consume six hundred billion pounds of plastic annually.  In 1960, the average American consumed thirty pounds of plastic products. Today we’re consuming 10 times that!

The quote below summarizes the story of plastic, which she tells using eight every day objects to weave her tale (the comb, the chair, the Frisbee, the IV bag, the disposable lighter, the grocery bag, the soda bottle, and the credit card):

“We take natural substances created over millions of years, fashion them into products designed for a few minutes’ use, and then return them to the planet as litter that we’ve engineered to never go away.” (page 10)

Other highlights include facts such as these:

  • We’ve produced nearly as much plastic in the first ten years of the new millennium, as in the entire preceding century.
  • All Americans now carry traces of dozens of synthetic chemicals in their bodies – including fire retardants, bactericides, pesticides, plasticizers, solvents, heavy metals, waterproofing agents, stain repellents, Teflon and other compounds. Even newborns harbor chemicals – on average 200, according to one study.
  • Plastic debris is now found in even the most remote places, like the Antarctic Ocean.
  • Though most plastic can be recycled, almost none is. Only plastic beverage bottles and milk jugs, #1 and # 2 plastics are recycled in any great numbers. Even so, nearly three-fourths never get into the recycling stream, and instead wind up in landfill or incinerators

Life without plastic. Is it possible?

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