Over the years, corporations have saved substantial amounts of money by replacing natural materials with plastic and other synthetic chemicals, and the result has been cheaper goods for all of us. But the question that must be raised now is whether we have sacrificed too much in the process.
If you think about it, you might join me by saying yes.
It’s true that soda manufactures no longer have to fill glass bottles with soda, distribute them to the market and then clean and refill the same bottles once consumers return their used bottles. What a difficult and time-consuming process that once was. Now, they merely sell us pop in cheap plastic bottles and let us throw them away wherever we want. Simple.
Of course, we all want to pay as little for products as possible, without sacrificing quality. Soda pop seems to taste just as good stored in plastic and aluminum as it does in glass. Or perhaps we’ve quickly adapted to the taste of plastic?
Back in 2007, I reviewed a film called King Corn (watch it online), a documentary that explored the government’s role in vastly expanding the amount of corn we grow and the number of industrial farms growing it. What the filmmakers revealed was that our escalating consumption of corn (in myriad products, especially high-fructose corn syrup) has adversely affected our health.
I suggest the same might be said of plastics and other chemicals that are now being used in connection with the production of food and other products we interact with daily.
“I sometimes think that there is a maligning force loose in the universe that is the social equivalent of cancer, and it’s plastic. It infiltrates everything. It’s metastasis. It gets into every single pore of productive life.” — Norman Mailer, Harvard Magazine, 1983
Who can say that petrochemical molecules are not leeching into our food supply through bottles and containers? Who can say that the spikes in cancer and autism and other conditions are not related to the decision by corporations to significantly expand our exposure to plastics and other petro- and agri-chemicals?
The introduction of plastics was a huge innovation for corporations, saving them a lot of money. Have you forgotten that scene in the 1967 film The Graduate in which Benjamin is mingling poolside with his family friends? Mr. McGuire offers a word of advice to the new high school graduate on career opportunities:
Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Heather Rogers, in her book Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, tells us that the plastics industry and the U.S. government “dispute any connection between synthetics and health problems….”
But can we trust them?
Over the past three days, I watched every play of baseball’s American League Championship Series in the Toronto dome now called Rogers Centre. Its cushy-almost-shag-carpet-feeling astroturf is made of crumb rubber, as you could see on every play. Whenever the ball bounced along the turf, small black rubber pellets flew up into the air. Whenever players dove to make a play, small black rubber pellets flew up into the air.
Multiple reports by Stephanie Gosk on NBC News have chronicled an escalating number of cancer cases in young soccer players allegedly related to crumb rubber turf, artificial playing surfaces used for soccer, football, baseball and other sports made from recycled rubber from auto and truck tires. These pellets contain mercury, lead, benzene and arsenic, and other hazardous chemicals, according to the EPA, which will not talk about the safety of the material.
No study has examined the effects of regular exposure to shredded or crumb rubber on young children, over an extended period of time — something some experts believe should be done, according to an NBC report on October 1.
Some communities are now opponents of crumb rubber field turf, just as more fast food companies are replacing Styrofoam containers with cardboard.
But these examples are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how synthetic chemicals have infiltrated our collective health. These are just a few examples of how corporations have found ways to replace safe materials, like glass and natural turf, with chemical products to reap huge profits.
What will turn the tide? The public’s rejection of artificial anything. I don’t even like artificial smiles.