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Are plastics really the enemy in our fight to save the planet?

DIP consults one of its own committee members, Alicia Chrysostomou, to chew over this very subject, following the publication of her latest book, ‘Plastics – Just a load of rubbish?’, which seeks to re-evaluate plastic and its role in saving the environment.

When something irritates us often enough, there’s usually a final straw moment which provokes us into taking action. This happened to Alicia Chrysostomou, when she was wondering how to counter the growing bad press and often inaccurate stories about plastics.


The question in her mind was whether, in the midst of endless media stories; programmes with belligerent titles such as the BBC’s ‘The War on Plastics’, and well-meaning government edicts encouraging less use of them, we were giving plastics a fair hearing.


Alicia says: “Several times I wanted to write letters to the supposedly reputable media when they printed articles which I knew to be inaccurate or just blatantly wrong and in fact I did get one complaint upheld by the BBC, but of course not before everyone had read the original article.


“The final straw came when, while volunteering for a local primary school, they had arranged for a class of nine and ten-year-olds to hear a science lecture from a chemistry professor. Discussing gases and their properties, the professor explained that rather than fill balloons with helium to keep them afloat, they were attached to plastic sticks. ‘And what happens to these plastic sticks?’ he asked. ‘They end up in the sea’, chanted back 150 children. I was seething so I went home and started writing.


“The challenge was how to remind people that plastic only ends up in the sea if people put it there. For the most part plastic waste is correctly disposed of, and much of that is now recovered and recycled.”


Alicia set about compiling a book which would both enlighten and entertain with interesting facts. She wanted to ask some searching questions of both the material and ourselves. Could it be that our push for materials that are anything but plastic can actually cause more harm to the planet? Certainly, as Alicia has found, many alternative materials used with the best possible intentions are anything but environmentally friendly or recyclable.


The result, after four years of endeavour, is this book, which seeks to answer the key underlying question of whether this material is as bad as it has been painted.


“Based on my professional experience as a polymer scientist and engineer, I would argue it is not – and I know I’m going against the norm - but I’d really like to suggest to anyone whose interest is piqued by this, to give the other side a fair hearing and you might find the result surprising.”


By her own admission, Alicia doesn’t seek to utterly exonerate all uses of this valuable material – “serious problems undoubtedly exist” – but what she tries to do is provide a more balanced argument, and also ask whether by fixating on plastics we are actually taking our eye off the ball and not seeing other areas worthy of equal or greater concern.


Above all, this book enlightens and entertains with fascinating facts about plastics. So if you’ve ever wondered what exactly is a bioplastic, why some but not all plastics can be recycled and the role a clumsy cat played in the development of early plastics, then give this book a read – you won’t be disappointed!


It is published by Hero Press (Legend Times Group Ltd) and is available now via the Hero Press website Hero Press UK Non-Fiction Publisher (hero-press.com) and Amazon.


*Alicia Chrysostomou was a senior university lecturer at London Metropolitan University on polymer materials and is now a speaker and consultant in the plastics filed. She has lived and worked in various places around the world including Hollywood and New Zealand. She has been published in a number of journals, and has been consulted by the BBC and the Bank of England amongst others. She has published unrelated books 'Strange Superstitions and Curious Customs of the Ancient World' and 'The Chronicles of Cerberus'. Alicia lives in Bristol with her family.

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