Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

Friday, June 10, 2011

Susan Freinkel describes why the plethora of plastics has created a major problem—we’ve produced as much plastic in the last 10 years as we did in the entire 20th century, and plastics draw on dwindling fossil fuels, leach harmful chemicals, litter landscapes, and destroy marine life. In Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, Freinkel tells the story of plastic through eight familiar objects: comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card. She combs through scientific studies and economic data, reporting from China and across the United States to assess the real impact of plastic on our lives, and how we can learn to live without it.


Susan Freinkel

Comments [29]

Herman Pittman from Long Beach

I am sympathic to the environmental problems of 'plastic'. But we are not going to stop using plastic! The obvious answer is recycling. All cities should be required to offer a recycling program, and these same cities should be obligated to 'actually' recycle the plastic that they pickup, not throw it into a landfill. Here is something that the 'politicians' could actually get done, but alas there is probably not much lobby money in recycling.


Jun. 10 2011 07:17 PM
Barbara Lifton

If everybody in the world individually minimized their usage of nonessential plastic products, there would be a positive effect on the environment. Each of us can contribute to the rescue of our Earth home.
BTW, it is arguable that certain plastics encourage the growth of certain cancers. I am reminded of the brilliant mid-20th Century artist Eva Hesse, who worked extensively with polyethylene, latex, fiberglass ad rubber, and whose extraordinary contribution to art was cut short at the tragic age of 34 when she died of brain cancer. Very suggestive? All of us must work to minimize this damage to the earth.

Jun. 10 2011 01:01 PM
Sandra from Bronx, NY

Oops! TWO words...

Jun. 10 2011 12:57 PM
Sandra from Bronx, NY

One Word: Chico Bag!

a line from the future Sequel to The Graduate : )

Jun. 10 2011 12:42 PM

Check out to see 2 sculptures made from plastic bags and plastic disks released from a Westchester waste water treatment plant that landed on the beaches of Long Island.

Jun. 10 2011 12:40 PM

What about plastics that biodegrade? When I was in France last year, I noticed many bio degradable plastic cups.

Jun. 10 2011 12:38 PM
ChrisC from Brooklyn

Anyone interested in seeing for themselves the devastating effects of plastics on seabirds should check out Chris Jordan's photography series "Message From the Gyre" (warning- these photos is not for the faint of heart)

Jun. 10 2011 12:37 PM
Karen from New York City

I think it would be great if people stopped buying new trash bags in boxes unless absolutely necessary for a move etc.
I haven't bought new trash bags in decades. I shop with the bags I get from a health food store where I shop regularly. I reuse bags for shopping and then use them for trash. I only get a new one now and then.

If people don't take a bag from a store, but buy new trash bags, how is that better?

Jun. 10 2011 12:37 PM
Nick from UWS

Why does the Frisbee survive?

Because it's a great simple game of skill you can play WITH OTHER PEOPLE in the outdoors. OTHER PEOPLE. Even your DOG.

Instead of standing there by yourself like an idiot with a hoola hoop.

Jun. 10 2011 12:37 PM

Leonard, NYC requires newspapers to be tied up in bundles for recycling, NOT put into plastic grocery store bags.

NYS has passed a law requiring stores that provide plastic bags to provide a bin for recycling in the store. Unfortunately, NYS and NYC have not publicized this. It's not always convenient to carry a reusable shopping but, but it's not that difficult to save plastic bags and return them to the store for recycling.

A large chain drugstore in Manhattan refused to accept my bag of plastic bags for recycling a few months ago. The employees and store manager looked like I was nuts. I reported the store to the appropriate NYS agency (found online) and the agency sent an inspector to the store to issue a warning.

Jun. 10 2011 12:37 PM
Ansi Vallens from Columbia County, NY

On water containers, Ms. Frankel is mistaken. Most bottled water is sold in polycarbonate containers that contain phthalates. Also, most soda bottles are made of PET -- polyethyleneterephthalate.

I used to be editor of the Modern Plastics Encyclopedia.

Jun. 10 2011 12:35 PM

I agree with the criticism of all the problems of disposable plastic -- especially that large mass of plastic somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

What I don't like is that, the summary of the segment ends with, "...and how we can learn to live without it." These are not all-or-nothing matters. I find this to be a problem with many issues where the critique is that, because a material has a seriously bad history, the reaction should be to "live without it". We should criticize the lies, deceptions, and, politics of manufacturers (e.g., of plastic bags) who use lies, deception, PR, and politics to fight efforts to reduce use or change ways of carrying stuff, but sometimes the product itself, if used more sensibly, can still be a good thing.

(My personal issue: I have stacks of old prescription bottles, only some of which are recyclable. I can do all sorts of things with the others, but my apartment is only so big. I would be happy to return them to the pharmacy for re-use for my own refills.)

Jun. 10 2011 12:35 PM
Sandra from Bronx, NY


What is the SMALLEST thing consumers can do that will have the LARGEST impact???


Jun. 10 2011 12:33 PM
Kathryn from Brooklyn

Even if you bring your own bag to the grocery store, what about all the clear plastic bags that one uses for vegetables and fruits and plastic containers for strawberries etc.

How do you avoid those?

Jun. 10 2011 12:31 PM
Phil Henshaw from way uptown

This is sad. The reality you find when you do the total accounting of plastic bags is that what went into them to carry home very probably caused 1000 times the real environmental impacts.

What people are leaving out is that the main source of impacts is all the economic services all over the world for delivering it, not the exceptionally low cost bag you end up putting it in....

see Systems Energy Assessment (SEA)

Jun. 10 2011 12:31 PM

Sun Chips tried to use bio-degradable bag, that was very loud when you crinkled it. Due to public out cry over the loundness of the bag, Sun Chips went back to the old plastic bag.

I just don't think people care about the plastic bag issue.

Jun. 10 2011 12:29 PM
Joseph from Brooklyn

The paper-plastic debate focuses on what happens after the bags are thrown away: paper degradesy. But, as a graphic designer, I know that paper-making has a big impact on the environment, so it's not at all an impact-less process. The focus needs to be on using less, and re-using what we do, to create less waste. Also, the Park Slope Food Coop takes some plastics that NYC doesn't collect, and non-members can participate:

Jun. 10 2011 12:29 PM
Steven from JFK NY

Sometime back I was told that concrete was the most prevalent man made thing in our cities. Can you ask you guest if plastic is more prevalent in most cities than concrete today. Or is it still concrete?

Jun. 10 2011 12:28 PM

Hasn't plastic had a revolutionizing effect on medical treatment?

Jun. 10 2011 12:27 PM
Henry from Brooklyn

If we kept and reused our plastic bags we would eliminate the carbon footprint to produce paper bags.

Jun. 10 2011 12:27 PM
Jean Freely from New York City

What's the alternative to plastic bags here in NYC apartment living for non-compostable daily trash disposable in the compacter rooms, etc?

Jun. 10 2011 12:27 PM
Sandra from Bronx, NY

Thanks for backing me up Bronx on Top!
Maybe we can start the campaign together? : )
Down with One Use Plastic Items!!!

Incidentally, Freinkel's interview is giving me a new appreciation for the Good rather than the Evil of Plastic!

Jun. 10 2011 12:26 PM
David from West Hempstead

Modern billiard balls are largely made of acrylic and resin.

Jun. 10 2011 12:19 PM
alex from queens

this guy has developed a way to recycle mixed plastics. got a good writeup in the economist

Jun. 10 2011 12:13 PM

Saying a polymer is like a really large molecule is like saying a wall is like a really large brick.

Jun. 10 2011 12:13 PM
Rebecca from manhattan

Is Bakelite a form of plastic?

Jun. 10 2011 12:12 PM

I totallay agree with Sandra from the Bronx. NYC needs to charge for plastic bags and that includes those little black bags you get at the corner deli. We also need to launch a cool campaign that will reach and affect plastic littering habits of the not-so-educated. How often do I see people in this city walk out of a store with a little black back -- which in turn contains a little paper bag, inside which is a soda bottle -- take the bottle out and just throw the bags on the sidewalk. It's this sort of basic lack of caring that is the root of the larger problem. Wouldn't it be nice to have the city talk about this problem as excitedly and animatedly as they are talking about this silly Weiner scandal.

Jun. 10 2011 11:25 AM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

Linda Byrne & Maggie Dubris have created an art exhibition: web site which addresses this problem is a dramatic fashion. It's a must see. Please check it out.

Jun. 10 2011 10:54 AM
Sandra from Bronx, NY

This is such an interesting and vitally important topic!

Recently, I participated in a cleanup of The Bronx River and the majority of the trash was one time use plastic bottles. (No surprise there!)

Two questions:
1) I refill my plastic water bottle with NYC tap water several times a day. Is this healthy?

2) I see people use a plastic bag to transport ANOTHER plastic item such as a juice bottle that already has a carrying handle. Or they simply take the bag out of habit and throw it on the ground right outside of the store!

What can eco-friendly consumers DO to change the laws in NYC and have stores start CHARGING for each plastic bag? (at least 25 cents?) That would REALLY reduce the problem here in The Bronx!!!


I will surely read your fascinating book!!!

Jun. 09 2011 10:25 PM

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