Monday, June 25, 2012

For the love of plastic

I finally finished reading a book that I've been working my way through since February - Plastic : A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel. It was a very interesting read, and although it gets heavy in spots with facts and the 'poly' of polymers, it was fascinating to get a grasp on the history and complete immersion of plastics in our society today.

This year I've been working on a research project that basically looks at two components of a big big question - Sustainability - What is it and how do we achieve it? I've chosen two areas of focus based in Moreton Bay, one being conservation in the sense of setting aside areas through designation for National Park status. The other looks at waste management and goals brought in by state government to reduce waste going to landfill.

The project 'With or without?' is partly asking What can we live with? What can we live without? It's a choice?

I wanted to get some understanding of the history of plastics and their role in our lives. It could be easy perhaps to think - I'll just stop using plastic, remove it from my life - but in reality plastics have benefits as well as drawbacks, and after reading Freinkel's book, I have a new awareness of just how ingrained this substance is in our everyday.
The blurb on the back of the book says it well ..."It's everywhere: just try to get through a day without touching anything made from it. But our love affair with this endlessly versatile and alluring substance is turning out to be a very complex relationship. Plastics draw on dwindling fossil fuels, leach harmful chemicals, litter landscapes and destroy marine life. And we've produced nearly as much of the stuff in the past decade as we did in the entire twentieth century."

You get the picture; though I'm glad to say the book also looks at positive developments in the use of plastics and recycling endevours around the world. It's well worth a read.
In my arts practice I'm really interested in the pragmatic, and reality of life. Where does the balance lie? At a time when issues are becoming increasingly polarised, with extremes at either end of the debate consuming all space and air....without any real discussion. How do we find a balance? And where is the middle ground? I like a good challenge...


  1. Plastic - such an interesting topic. I am beginning to research the art products I use and their potential effects on health, mine in particular. I started a new blog to do so, apart from my art blog. Have you found your research into the use of plastic has changed your art practice in any way?

  2. its and EXCELLENT challenge! - a friend recommended 'plastic' to me last year but I haven't had the chance to read it yet - his ideas/actions have always been on the radical side of things ('plastics BAAAAAD, kill plastics!') yet as you say - it would be impossible for us to get through a day now without encountering the stuff.... and when folk discuss peak everything, plastic needs to be there too (I think weaning off plastic is going to be as painful as weaning off cheap oil for transport....) I look forward to what your project entails as I do think that how we handle waste is key (no point in creating sanctuaries if they are swimming in our waste products..... and cooked by climate change...)

  3. Hi Leslie, Thanks for your comment. I'm still scratching the surface at the much still to learn and consider. In relation to art materials I made a choice years ago to not work with fumes - so no oil painting, whether that is healthier or not compared to acrylics, I haven't looked into it. When it comes to risks in life, driving on the freeway seems more tangible than the art materials I use, but having said that, I wear 'plastic' gloves if I'm doing really messy work, don't put paint brushes in my mouth and regularly mop down dusty surfaces in my studio.
    One thing I hadn't realised before reading Plastic, is canned food and drink containers are plastic's everywhere.

  4. Hi Ronnie, Thanks for your comments, I think you'll find Plastic an interesting read, it covers a lot of ground without the rhetoric.

  5. Thanks Nicola, this is interesting. I found a 1941 publication of 'Plastics' which heralds the entering of a new plastic age.It concludes with how much cleaner and brighter the world will be, independent of our localised natural resources....a world built to order, the perfect expression of the new spirit of planned scientific control, the Plastics Age.
    It certainly has changed the world forever. Jude

  6. Hi Jude, How interesting to read those comments from 1941, Thanks. It would have been difficult to imagine where plastics development would lead from its humble beginings in items like the frisbie.

    Makes me recall claims of the late 80's, when the new age of technology was going to bring us more leisure time.

  7. I have to ask! No more bubble wrap?

  8. Hi Susan, That's the conundrum isn't it...the convenience of plastics, it can be difficult to seperate the benefits and drawbacks. I doubt I'll see milk delivered in glass bottles again in my life time; or avoid touching a key board for the rest of my life; not to mention the medical benefits - humidicribs, etc.
    So are our choices more about how we dispose of, reuse and recycle these materials? Reducing excessive packaging? Should the cost of these materials reflect the costs of dealing with pollution from them?
    I think convenience and $$ are big drivers in how we use and dispose of plastic.

    What do you think?
    Thanks for your comment.