An informative treatise on our complicated and dependent relationship with plastic.
Early in the book, journalist Freinkel (American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree, 2007) tracks her use of every plasticized object she touches, from toilet seat to light switch to fleece sweatshirt, wondering, “How did my life become so permeated by synthetics without my even trying?” The author examines plastic via a study of eight everyday objects: comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle and credit card. Each chapter details the innovations and innovators that allowed us to progress technologically as plastic replaced the ivory comb, the wooden chair and even human body parts. Though Freinkel does her best to create a lively exploration, some sections of the narrative get bogged down. The evolution of the plastic chair, for example, doesn’t exactly make for compelling history. However, the author provides an engaging chronicle of the alacrity with which the plastic industry developed—today, “more than one million Americans work directly in plastics.” Freinkel’s argument that, due to our obsession with plastic, we “are facing frightening intimations of ecological collapse,” gives the book an urgency that will be appreciated by scientists, industry leaders and environmentalists alike—especially in a country where the average individual consumes more than 300 pounds of plastic each year.
General readers may find the narrative overly scientific at times, but Freinkel presents a balanced, well-researched investigation into a controversial and versatile human creation.