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.
Foreword by Carl Safina
Preface: Out to Sea
PART I: The Missing Plastic
Chapter 1: Welcome to the Gyre
Chapter 2: Below the Surface
Chapter 3: The Ocean’s Canaries
Chapter 4: From Ship to Shore
PART II: Little Poison Pills
Chapter 5: Pick Up the Pieces
Chapter 6: Troubled Waters
Chapter 7: The Plastic Within Us
PART III: People and the Plastic Industry
Chapter 8: Welcome
Chapter 9: Plastic and Our Warming World
PART IV. Solutions
Chapter 10: Cleaning It Up
Chapter 11: Closing the Loop
Chapter 12: Circular Thinking
Conclusion: Giants Do Fall
About the Author
Erica Cirino is a science writer and artist who explores the intersection of the human and nonhuman worlds. Her photographic and written works have appeared in Scientific American, The Guardian, VICE, Hakai Magazine, The Atlantic, and other esteemed publications. She is a recipient of fellowships from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, and Safina Center, as well as several awards for visual art.
"Thicker than Water provides a fascinating insight into the plastic crisis and its potential solutions. Although the subject inevitably makes for challenging reading, itis made engaging and palatable by personal stories. [...] Solutions form a key part of her from plastic alternatives to better recycling."
– Rebecca Nesbitt, The Niche 53(4), winter 2022
"In this time of multiple environmental catastrophes, you can superficially Google and despair or you can dive deep, inform yourself, and find your point of entry into meaningful action. Erica Cirino's Thicker Than Water very much belongs in the latter camp. It really is the book you need to read if you want to understand ocean plastic pollution but also be part of the solution."
– Paul Greenberg, bestselling author of Four Fish and The Climate Diet
"Thicker Than Water takes you on an engaging journey through the many challenges of plastic pollution and diverse emerging solutions. Told through Erica's own personal experiences of epic sailing adventures at sea and connections made on land, it's a comprehensive guide to the plastic problem and what can be done to tackle it."
– Emily Penn, director of eXXpedition
"As I travel around the world aboard SeaLegacy 1, I can see with my own eyes the crisis Cirino so eloquently describes in the pages of Thicker Than Water. The ocean plastic pollution problem is solvable and it will require us to understand how it came about and who the culprits are. Thicker Than Water is an engaging narrative exploration of an issue that affects us all."
– Cristina Mittermeier, cofounder of SeaLegacy
"Erica Cirino traveled 10,000 nautical miles to bring readers an up-close look at plastics' full scope, from the open sea to communities protesting more plants and more pollution. Cirino compellingly narrates the complexities of plastics' unfolding history, as communities, states, and nations figure out how society might change its relationship to this enduring material."
– Rebecca Altman, PhD, writer and environmental sociologist