I read an excellent book recently, Plastics: A Toxic Love Story. I call it to your attention because it is not a diatribe against plastic--we've read plenty of those, and have come to expect them. Rather, Susan Freinkel makes the idiosyncratic but extremely wise point that plastic is such a valuable, game-changing material--here to stay--that we should be treating it with more respect, rather than blithely discarding it. It does not biodegrade, so it is always with us, even if it is recycled into another form. We are truly living in a Plasticene Era, as I think of it; it is good to learn about how we got here, and what is means.
Freinkel reports the fascinating history of the development of plastic, telling its story through a series of objects: combs, chairs, lighters, frisbees. Plastic helped save tortoises...Plastic democratized good design...Plastic has inspired artists. Plastic has, at times, made the difference between life and death, that's how amazing a material it is. We learn about how blood bags and threads of plastic tubing have saved the lives of premature infants --but some of that tubing is made with toxic chemicals, which have an impact on the child later. Some hospitals have switched sources to make sure their plastic is nontoxic.
The writing is lyrical, full of personality and wonder; it is fun to read and really does change the way you see the world around you. The book contains a great deal of old-fashioned (what we used to call shoe-leather before running shoes took over) reporting. Freinkel's blog, Plastica, is not to be missed. Did you know that in 1940 pollsters found that the word "cellophane" was the third most beautiful word in the English language, right behind "mother" and "memory"?