Saturday, February 09, 2008

Toxic Baby Bottles, Toxic Plastic

Very serious, but a problem that's been with us for a while.

"The chemical bisphenol A, which is a synthetic hormone that can leech out of certain plastic when heated, turned up in nine different polycarbonate bottles commonly sold in Canada by three different manufacturers." (title link)

It's an estrogen. These chemicals are found in many plastics, and other toxic chemicals are found in many separate kinds of plastic. Part of the negligence that this represents is endemic to the plastic industry spawned in the U.S. after World War II. It's an example of excess and short sightedness on the part of American industry.

The question is why we use plastic at all for many things. No doubt there are certain products and certain functions that require qualities that plastic has in order to work properly but it seems like many of the applications of plastic in the U.S. are the result of laziness and not of need.
Excessive plastic packaging is one example.

In the post war world the U.S. found itself resource rich and with few competitors. What I think happened is that it sought an easy way out of different product problems by using plastic for everything. Plastic is just what the name implies--flexible, able to be used for many purposes. You can slap plastic wrap on something and not think twice about it. You can substitute a plastic part for something made out of another material and have more freedom to create exactly what you need. Plastic is the easy way out. In packaging and other applications finding a non-plastic alternative would require more work and more investment and so was not pursued, even though this sort of solution would have probably have lead to less pollution, less health problems, and less disposal problems.

Cars fall into this sort of thinking as well. I have a car and I drive it, I use gas, so I'm not innocent in this, but constructing roads and highways as opposed to commuter trains and bus systems is a quintessential easy way out of dealing with collective issues regarding transportation. Why put the effort into creating a train system when you can make roads and have everyone ride in car? Of course, people would object to public transportation as some sort of collectivist plot, but that sort of luxury thinking is only possible in rich countries that have money to burn. Suburbs follow the same sort of logic.

Instead of urban planning and trying to find a way to accommodate people within a city, new housing developments went up in the post-war world that maximized waste through single family dwellings and altered the landscape of America by creating the equivalent of many small towns arranged haphazardly, that you need cars to navigate. The world of picket fences actually makes life more difficult in that there's no rhyme or reason to the construction of the new towns, and really new developments, in the past decade and a half, are even worse. No one can walk anyplace. There's usually no centrally located shopping district, meaning that you have to drive around for a long time to stores in different parts of the town to get stuff that in a city would be available with one trip downtown and maybe a walk to your local grocery store. The excess goes into the manufacturing industry too.

although the steel industry has been sadly decimated, leaving many people in really bad shape, the blame for it really belongs to the bosses and executives. In the post war largesse they constructed wasteful steel works that were eventually rendered obsolete by European inventions and refused to invest the money to change their production processes until it was too late.

Our consumption binge doesn't even make sense. This aspect of American innovation tends to reflect an American want of evasion of innovation and critical thought about social problems than it does ingenuity. And we pat ourselves on the back for being so smart.

Toxic baby bottles, where the severity of potential harm vies with toxins effecting pregnant women for the title of most outrageous, is just the newest manifestation of the drunk king granting random favors to people convinced that it will all work out.

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