Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis by Erica Cirino

Much of what you’ve heard about plastic pollution may be wrong. Instead of a great island of trash, the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of manmade debris spread over hundreds of miles of sea—more like a soup than a floating garbage dump. Recycling is more complicated than we were taught: less than nine percent of the plastic we create is reused, and the majority ends up in the ocean. And plastic pollution isn’t confined to the open ocean: it’s in much of the air we breathe and the food we eat.  

In Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis, journalist Erica Cirino brings readers on a globe-hopping journey to meet the scientists and activists telling the real story of the plastic crisis. From the deck of a plastic-hunting sailboat with a disabled engine, to the labs doing cutting-edge research on microplastics and the chemicals we ingest, Cirino paints a full picture of how plastic pollution is threatening wildlife and human health. Thicker Than Water reveals that the plastic crisis is also a tale of environmental injustice, as poorer nations take in a larger share of the world’s trash, and manufacturing chemicals threaten predominantly Black and low-income communities.  

There is some hope on the horizon, with new laws banning single-use items and technological innovations to replace plastic in our lives. But Cirino shows that we can only fix the problem if we face its full scope and begin to repair our throwaway culture. Thicker Than Water is an eloquent call to reexamine the systems churning out waves of plastic waste. 

“Informed, utterly blindsiding account.” – Booklist, starred review

It’s falling from the sky and in the air we breathe. It’s in our food, our clothes, and our homes. It’s microplastic and it’s everywhere—including our own bodies. Scientists are just beginning to discover how these tiny particles threaten health, but the studies are alarming.

In A Poison Like No Other, Matt Simon reveals a whole new dimension to the plastic crisis, one even more disturbing than plastic bottles washing up on shores and grocery bags dumped in landfills. Dealing with discarded plastic is bad enough, but when it starts to break down, the real trouble begins. The very thing that makes plastic so useful and ubiquitous – its toughness – means it never really goes away. It just gets smaller and smaller: eventually small enough to enter your lungs or be absorbed by crops or penetrate a fish’s muscle tissue before it becomes dinner.

Unlike other pollutants that are single elements or simple chemical compounds, microplastics represent a cocktail of toxicity: plastics contain at least 10,000 different chemicals. Those chemicals are linked to diseases from diabetes to hormone disruption to cancers.

A Poison Like No Other is the first book to fully explore this public health threat, following the intrepid scientists who travel to the ends of the earth and the bottom of the ocean to understand the consequences of our dependence on plastic. As Simon learns from these researchers, there is no easy fix. But we will never curb our plastic addiction until we begin to recognize the invisible particles all around us. 

Despite the global movement to tackle plastic pollution, demand for plastics continues to rise. As the world transitions away from fossil fuels, plastics are set to be the biggest driver of oil demand. Single-use plastics – deemed essential in the fight against COVID-19 – have been given a new lease of life. In a world beset with crisis fatigue, what can we do to curb the escalating plastics crisis?

In this book, Alice Mah reveals how petrochemical and plastics corporations have fought relentlessly to protect and expand plastics markets in the face of existential threats to business. From denying the toxic health effects of plastics to co-opting circular economy solutions to plastic waste and exploiting the opportunities offered up by the global pandemic, industry has deflected attention from the key problem: plastics production.

The consequences of unfettered plastics growth are pernicious and highly unequal. We all have a part to play in reducing plastics consumption but we must tackle the problem at its root: the capitalist imperative for limitless growth.