Editor's note: This letter was addressed to Time magazine in response to its April 1 (online) story, “The Perils of Plastic.”
Your article starts by noting U.S. industrial chemical usage as 42 billion pounds a day, yet the U.S. usage of plastics is around 100 billion pounds a year, or less than 1 percent of your 42 billion/day figure. Why, then, do you imply that all/most of these chemicals go into plastics?
Then you link, by successive sentences, “chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates — key ingredients in modern plastics” to “modern ills that have been rising unchecked for a generation — obesity, diabetes, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.”
Modern ills? Obesity is rampant because we don't all farm or do hard physical work anymore to survive; we eat too much; and we have the cheapest calorie supply on earth. Blame supermarkets, TV, cars and washing machines at least as much as plastics.
Diabetes surfaces more, partly, because of obesity and because we live longer thanks to other advances in modern medicine.
Autism? We just used to think these were unusual children, and they grew up unusual. Its cause is a mystery.
ADHD? I had it and still have it, well-compensated and channeled into top-of-the-class school and technical performance. Now they have a name for it and drugs to “normalize” the afflicted.
Link to plastics? Bolonium (chemical symbol: Bo). If a human suspect is innocent until proven guilty, why not treat materials with the same fairness? Answer: because this “suspect,” like many human ones, is already prejudged guilty for convenience, to avoid finding and dealing with the real perpetrators — our culture that is addicted to consumption and growth, and the fears of what the alternatives might bring.
Your focus on BPA — involved in only one expensive and minor-volume plastic, polycarbonate — is typical and misleading. PC is not one of the major plastics, and is not used in food packaging or eating utensils. And all No. 7s are not all PC, no more than all birds are ducks. Furthermore, BPA is not an “ingredient” in PC, but rather a building block which is reacted into harmless molecules in the course of making the plastic.
And “phthalates” is far too broad a word, as it includes the building block of the so-far-unchallenged PET for beverage bottles (the T stands for terephthalate), as well as some plasticizers for PVC, which have many alternatives that are now commonly used. Neither those nor the other “suspects” are used in eating utensils and plates.
To tar all plastics with these tired and either inapplicable or irrelevant brushes is technical irresponsibility. Your article does include a lot of good science, but to be fair as well as informative, please put plastics into their proper perspective, and deal with the causes of public perceptions and fears.
El Cerrito, Calif.