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Nechama Brodie is a South African journalist and researcher. She is the author of six books, including two critically acclaimed urban histories of Johannesburg and Cape Town. She works as the head of training and research at TRI Facts, part of independent fact-checking organisation Africa Check, and is completing a PhD in data methodology and media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Plastic represents both the function and the folly of modern human technology. It is clever, versatile, and virtually ubiquitous. We need plastic, but only once. Most of it is disposed of after a single use, virtually never recycled. We now have a mid-ocean plastic garbage patch that is larger than most countries. In an attempt to mitigate the problem, many restaurants have recently begun to ban single-use plastic straws — only to replace them with ... plastic sippy cups.
In between the science, the rhetoric, and the economic pros and cons, plastic's history and evolution in human society highlights the tangible connections between all its parts and explains, in part, the deliberate effort to make us into a plastic planet.
This essay interleaves economic, political and social histories, and personal insights to shed some prosaic light onto an often opaque subject. It also features beautiful photographs.