Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Plastic? Problematic. An Excerpt from The Natural Building Companion?

Article reposted from Natural Home & Garden magazine.

Design, craftsmanship and environmental impact are important to Jacob Deva Racusin and Ace McArleton, authors of The Natural Building Companion (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012). This comprehensive guide to integrative design and construction focuses on natural building materials that leave a gentler footprint than current practices. While the industrial development of plastic in many ways made life easier, plastic production impacts every phase of the life cycle. Learn about the harmful effects of plastic on human health and the environment in this excerpt from chapter 2, “Ecology.”

Harmful Effects of Plastic

A sea change in building technology arrived in the 1950s with the “Age of Plastic.” Industrial development of fossil fuels into a wide array of plastics changed formulations in everything from insulation to mechanicals to paint, and plastic is still a ubiquitous component of every building assembly. Unfortunately, the impacts of plastic production in its many forms are heavy in every phase of its life cycle. While there is a common general understanding that plastics have negative ecological associations, a closer understanding of what types of plastics create what types of impacts will empower us to improve the toxic footprint of our buildings.

Plastics are not inherently bad, and they have many redeeming ecological features; in fact, many of the techniques we utilize in our designs involve targeted use of plastic products. Their durability and low maintenance reduce material replacement, their light weight reduces shipping energy, their formulation into glue products allows for the creation of engineered lumber and sheet products from recycled wood, and their formulation into superior insulation and sealant products improves the energy performance of our structures.

The feedstock of plastic is primarily petroleum- or natural-gas-derived, although bio-plastics are making inroads in the overall market share of plastic products. Obvious issues emerge regarding the finite amount of available petroleum resources, as well as the pollution associated with oil extraction and refinement; the massive Gulf Coast oil spill of 2010 is only one of the more notorious of the many ecologically devastating accidents that are not frequently considered in addition to the standard pollution impacts of extraction and refinement, which are extensive.

Read more:

Read the entirety of Chapter Two here.

The Natural Building Companion is available in our bookstore.

The Limits to Growth and Greece: Systemic or Financial Collapse?

Could it be that the ongoing Greek collapse is a symptom of the more general collapse that the Limits to Growth model generates for the first two decades of the 21st century? Author Ugo Bardi (Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet) examines the correlation between what is unfolding between Greece […] Read More..

Permaculture Q&A: Mulching Options for Your Garden

As Permaculture Month continues, we are making our expert authors available to answer your burning permaculture questions. If you have a question to submit, fill out this form. This week, Lottie from Florida asked if there are other garden mulch options that are as effective as hay. Josh Trought, one of our soil building and garden management […] Read More..

Designing Your Own Solar Cooker & Dehydrator

In today’s world, nearly everything we use, from phones and computers to cars and kitchen appliances, requires energy derived from fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it be nice to offset some of that energy use by harnessing the renewable power of the sun? Josh Trought, founder of D Acres—an educational center in New Hampshire that researches, applies, […] Read More..

Building a Sustainable Community: The D Acres Model

If you were going to create a community-based homestead or farm from scratch, where would you start? What building materials would you use? What crops would you grow and what animals would you raise? How would you develop an organizational structure and connect with your community? And, how would you make sure all of this […] Read More..

A Man Apart: Remembering Bill Coperthwaite’s Radical Life

A Man Apart is the story—part family memoir and part biography—of Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow’s longtime friendship with Bill Coperthwaite (A Handmade Life), whose unusual, and even radical, life and fierce ideals helped them examine and understand their own. Framed by Coperthwaite’s sudden death and brought alive through the month-long adventure of building with […] Read More..