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Plastic: A Toxic Love Story [Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Susan Freinkel , Pam Ward
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Dreamscape Media; Unabridged edition (18 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611200253
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611200256
  • Product Dimensions: 16.9 x 14.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,047,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening book. Ignorance is not bliss! 27 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a book that should be widely read and understood. We are in dire need of more public attention to the lethal consequences of our abuse of plastics. We are sleepwalking into an ecological catastrophe. Well done, Susan Freinkel I hope you can make your voice heard, specially by teachers in primary schools, where the children whose lives we are messing up can learn the lesson and start agitating for change.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An uninformed view on plastics 8 Oct 2011
The book reads as an educational account of Mrs Freinkel's effort to comprehend the world of plastics. Accordingly lot's of pages on trying to reproduce opinions and statements of experts and "not so much experts" making it for the reader difficult to understand what the author actually wants to accomplish. The title for certain is very suggestive but the content is weak on facts. It is undeniable that plastics have a significant impact on todays society for better and for worse - just like with anything human kind does. A balanced perspective is not voiced in this book giving a biased out look on plastics. Technology may offer a number of solutions but also behavior and attitude are critical to tackle much of the issues raised by plastics. In short do not waste money on the book if you want to become an informed person on plastics.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  56 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First rate history and compelling reading 5 April 2011
By Michael J. Edelman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Around 150 years ago, the elephants of the world were being hunted to extinction. The reason? The need for high-quality ivory needed to make billiard balls for that gentleman's game. The rising price of ivory threatened the entire industry, and in 1863 a billiard ball supplier offered a reward of $10,000 in gold (equivalent foot about $175,000 at today's prices) to anyone who could come up with a good substitute. A printer by the name of John Wesley Hyatt took up the challenge, and started experimenting with nitrating various materials. What he came up with was nitrocellulose, a touch, flexible material that his creative brother named Celluloid. Celluloid proved a boon not only to billiard ball makers (and not incidentally, to elephants) but also to hawkbill tortoises. The were also threatened, their sturdy shells being the raw material for the sort of elegant combs that respectable women of the day wore in their hair- if they could afford them. Celluloid combs, mirrors, and other feminine accessories quickly flooded the market. Celluloid collars for men's shirts quickly displaced expensive linen ones. The era of synthetic materials had begun.

The second generation of synthetics came around 1907, with the accidental discovery of what was to become the first of the thermosetting plastics: Bakelite. Invented as a synthetic replacement for shellac in electrical insulation, Bakelite's toughness and ease of molding quickly found a home in telephone sets, radio cabinets, pipe stems, kitchenware and more. It could easily be tinted with the new synthetic dyes, producing the brilliant plastic Catalin radio sets of the 1930s. Unlike celluloid, which was seen as a substitute for natural materials, Bakelite was something new- a synthetic that had properties that simply weren't found in natural materials. It allowed for the creation of objects that simply weren't possible before.

World War Two saw an explosion in the production of various plastics- nylon, for parachute canopies, replaced the silk that was no longer obtainable from Japan and China. Teflon was invented to line the tubes of uranium processing plants to protect against the corrosive effects of uranium hexaflouride gas. GIs went to war with nylon combs. And tons of Bakelite went into electrical switches, instruments, and munitions. After WWII, the plastics industry exploded on to the consumer market. Industrial capacity for the creation of plastics resins and the invention of production technology made possible a raft of consumer products never before seen. And a population starved for consumer goods was ready to buy. Plastics showed up everywhere. Car seats, dashboards, exciting new furniture designs, refrigerator shelves, table radios, and the new synthetic fabrics flooded the market.For someone growing up in the 1950s, plastic was the symbol of the future- a space-age material that mad the impossible possible.

It wasn't just consumer goods. Industry and medicine discovered the wonders of these new materials. Disposable syringes and needles meant an end to the threat of cross contamination. Plastic tubing and bags made possible the heart lung machine, kidney dialysis, plasma separation, and bags that could be used to carry blood components into remote places of onto the battlefield. Surgeons were using synthetic suttees in place of silk and gut, and sewing synthetic patches onto damaged arteries.

But by the late 1960s, plastic was beginning to lose some of its shine. The new plastic consumer goods were so cheap, it didn't pay to fix them- you just threw them away. And discarded plastics were starting to pile up. Not just in dumps, but in parks, on beaches, in the ocean, and- well, everywhere. The invention of the PET plastic drinks bottle resulted in millions or billions of plastic bottle being discarded everywhere. What made it worse was that these bottle lasted pretty much forever. The new ecology movement started to see plastics as one of the great evils of human society, and if you were a hipster in the late 60s, just about the worst adjective you could apply to a person or thing was "plastic."

The oil shortages of the 1970s were another nail in plastic's coffin. Bakelite is still around, but the great majority of synthetics today come from compounds found in oil- a byproduct of the automative age. Author Freinkel relates an apocryphal story in which John D. Rockefeller, seeing ethylene waste gas burning off from open of his refineries, ordered his employees to find a use for it. Whether of not the story is true, ethylene gas is the raw material that goes into polyethylene, HDPE, LDPE, PET (the material soft drink bottles are made of) and much more. The plastics industry today accounts for roughly 10% of total US oil consumption.

Then in the 1990s came another concern. It seems that some of these wonder materials contain plasticizers and other components that can be leached out by heat or water. Some of these components mimicked natural endocrines found in humans and other animals. Discarded plastics were being identified as a possible cause of mutations found in frogs. The same plastics used help save premature babies might also be responsible for giving them cancer years later.

And thus began the latest plastics revolution- the creation of synthetic materials, ideally made from plant materials, that would biodegrade, and return to the ecosystem. In a sense, this was the industry coming full circle, since many of the first synthetics (cellulose, Rayon) were made from natural materials. But now materials scientists are genetically engineering bacteria to produce large quantities of new synthetics, tweaking the properties of naturally found materials. Everyone is now looking for something cheap, natural, and biodegradable, with no toxicity and zero net carbon debt.

There's much, much more to the story than I've outlined above, and author Susan Freinkle does a first rate job of relating everything from the technical issues to the social consequences of the plastics industry over the last century. Despite a few small errors (i.e., she says that nitrocellulose was "briefly" used as a "gunpowder substitute" when it's actually the main constituent of gun propellants today) she does a very good job of relating the technical issues in a non-technical way, and unlike some authors she does not neglect the economic issues that need to be dealt with. There's much to be learned here, all of it related in a manner that makes for compelling reading.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Easy Five Stars 18 Mar 2011
By Spudman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Called the North Pacific Gyre or a plastic vortex it stretches an expanse of ocean at least the size of Texas, maybe twice that size. Scientists think it contains 3 million pounds or more of plastic - water bottles, disposable lighters, bags, bottle caps, toys, innumerable sundry items - and small pieces of plastic created by the ocean's motion and the rays of the sun, so many slivers of plastic that the ocean in that area glistens, such an incredible number of plastic particles that they outnumber plankton (in some areas 40 to 1) and are ingested by sea birds, turtles, and fish- killing some or becoming part of the "food" chain as larger fish ingest smaller fish.

This is not Al Gorish paranoia. The gyre is real, observable, and measurable. The presence of the gyre (there are actually two of them) can't be denied even by the manufacturers of plastic. When asked about the gyre, one spokesperson for the plastic industry said that consumers have to do a better job recycling. We'd better, because except for a small percentage of bioplastics, plastic is "forever" with life expectancies of 500 to a thousand years.

Google "plastic vortex". Note the multiple pages of hits. Watch the Youtube videos, especially one by San Diego department of oceanography. Pay attention to the photos of dead birds, fish, and turtles, their stomachs slit open to expose horrific amounts of plastic.

How does one even begin to tackle the story of plastic, and its journey from chemical strands to tiny chunks, to manufactured products, to the ocean, and ultimately back to billions of bits of plastic confetti? Freinkel chose eight common objects to tell her plastic tale: the comb, the chair, the Frisbee, the IV bag, the disposable lighter, the grocery bag, the soda bottle, the credit card. Using these objects, the author traces the history of plastic, its evolution, and traces the processes by which these 8 plastic representatives are made.
The reader learns about the five families of commodity plastics and how each can be tweaked to expand attributes, uses, and form. Of the five, polyethylene is the dominant one, the plastic of choice. Vicariously the reader travels to town sized factories like one in Texas and to some of China's toy factories, Frisbee factory, and recycling behemoths where much of our West Coast's plastic is sent.

My Take

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from its ingeniously designed plasticized cover to the final word. Susan Freinkel held this reader's interest from beginning to end and along the way educated, fascinated, and motivated. Having read an advance copy of Plastic, I'd like to see a timeline of significant events in the history of plastic, and a few photographs, especially of the plastic vortex would be wrapper on the package.

While reading Plastic I had no shortage of compelling conversation starters and got a refreshing tune up of my social consciousness. I know even more than ever that there is no easy answer to the plastic or paper conundrum; facts revealed by the author regarding this long time problem may surprise some readers.
I certainly think of plastic a little differently now, and won't be as apt to turn a blind eye now to inappropriately discarded plastic or "matter out of place."
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As a Plastic Distributor I Thought this Book Treated The Subject Fairly and Informatively 31 Oct 2011
By Spoolman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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. I got a chance to do both when I when I recently read the new book, Plastic; A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel.

The author decided to spend a day without touching anything plastic. But she didn't make it too far. About 10 seconds, she estimates...since both the light switch and the toilet seat in the bathroom were made of plastic. So she changed the experiment into a list-making exercise and that day she wrote down 196 different plastic items that she touched. Of course, many of these items were non-durable items like plastic packaging. The next day she continued list-making with a similar tally of everything she touched that wasn't at least partially made of plastic. The non-plastic list only made it to 102 items.

This led to some reflection and a list of questions, which she attempts to answer in the book. Those questions include:

What is plastic?
Where does plastic come from?
How did we get so many plastic items in our lives without really trying?
What happens to plastics after we put them into a recycling bin?
Does plastic actually get recycled after it's picked up curbside?
How much of the plastic that the typical American discards is ending up in the ocean?
Should we stop using plastic shopping bags?
Is there a future for plastic in a sustainable world?
To explore the answers to these questions, the book is organized into separate chapters about eight common, everyday, relatively non-durable objects that are commonly made from plastic, including the comb, the stackable cafe chair, the Frisbee, the intravenous solution bag, the disposable lighter, the grocery bag, the soda pop bottle and the credit card.

Two of my favorite factoids in the book were:

In the 19th century plastics were actively promoted as a way to replace ivory from elephant tusks for use in billard balls and to replace hair comb materials that were coming from hawksbill turtle shells.
The rapid growth of plastics after World War II had a lot to do with their utility as a way to use the ever-increasing stream of petroleum refining by-products.
Overall it thought that the Pro's of this book were:

It's a good historical overview of plastic
The author acknowledges the paradoxes of the plastic industry
There is a good chapter explaining what the recycling numbers on plastic products indicate and where they came from
And there's an excellent notes section at the back of the book
And I thought the Con's of this book were:
No durable plastic items were examined
No full-scale solutions for the paradoxes of our huge reliance on non-durable plastic products were identified or examined
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This should be required reading for everyone 29 Jun 2011
By Mrs. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
We're at a catch-22. Some of the plastic products available today are better than their counterparts, and we're all becoming accustomed to using the "throw away" versions of many products. This author takes an in-depth look at the uncomfortable topic of our "love affair" with plastics...that is, "love affair gone bad," according to the author.

This is a riveting and easy to read look at a difficult topic for today's modern times. Now, we just need it to be made into one of those 1.5 hour documentaries!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! 23 April 2013
By Cuckoo Pine Nut - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was sucked in to this book from page 1. I'm a huge fan of Bill Bryson, and this author reminded me in ways of him: taking a seemingly simple topic and revealing its true complexity via a myriad of apparent rabbit trails, but bringing it all back together in the end.

I have learned more about plastic than I ever dreamed there even was to know. It definitely makes me feel the need to further reduce plastic consumption in my own family and to be responsible with the plastic I already have and what I need to dispose of. I recommend this to anyone who's interested in history or helping the planet.
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