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The podcast aims to untangle the complex web of the story of plastics in order to help people understand some of the most pressing health and environmental issues of our time
The podcast aims to untangle the complex web of the story of plastics in order to help people understand some of the most pressing health and environmental issues of our time

Healthy Materials Lab Launches Season 2 of Podcast Focused on Plastic

The Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages defined human history based on the impact those respective materials had on civilization. Now, we are living in a “Plastic Age,” according to the creators of Trace Material, a podcast from the Healthy Materials Lab (HML) at Parsons School of Design that explores one material each season.

“Stories from a Plastic Age” debuted recently, and investigates plastic through iconic objects like Tupperware and Bakelite, while diving into topics ranging from American consumerism, environmental racism, feminism, and more. The podcast, now in its second season, is hosted by Ava Robinson, MFA Creative Writing ‘22, HML Producer, and Burgess Brown, MA Theories of Urban Practice ‘18, HML Researcher and Producer, and is produced with support from The National Endowment for the Humanities.

“This season, we decided to look back on the material that, for better or worse, defines our past and present,” shared Robinson. “Plastic is the material with which we have built our modern world. It has changed the makeup of both our bodies and our environment and this season we’re tracing the ways it has shaped our culture.”

The Healthy Materials Lab is committed to raising awareness about toxics in building products, and to creating resources for the next generation of designers and architects so that they can make healthier places for all people to live. Through Trace Material, which highlighted hemp in its first season, the team behind the podcast aims to untangle the complex web of the story of plastics in order to help people understand some of the most pressing health and environmental issues of our time.

“As we continue to learn more about the ways toxic chemicals are poisoning our bodies and planet, our reliance on plastics becomes less and less tenable,” said Brown. “To chart a path to a healthier future, we can look to the lessons of the past. Our arrival in the plastics age has been fueled by innovation, but also greed.”

Throughout the season, Robinson and Brown interview a wide variety of experts, including design historians, a Tupperware saleswoman, environmental justice activists, politicians, lawyers, youth climate organizers, and more. While the overarching topic is plastic, the team wanted to hone in on the people behind the plastic in order to more fully explore and understand larger themes in American history and culture. 

“Tupperware allows us to tell stories of suburbanization and feminism in 1950s America, while the disposable plastic bag leads us to a story of corporate control over local legislation,” explains Robinson.

In addition to the broad range of stories they’re able to tell through audio, Healthy Materials Lab also wanted to connect with a larger, more general audience, which led to the creation of the podcast. They challenge listeners to think about the way plastic affects their daily lives, and in turn, think more critically about the way other materials in their lives affect them.

“We hope people will come away from this season with a better understanding of just how influential this one material has been on our culture over the last century,” says Brown. “Materials change our bodies, our environment, and they even change our culture. Therefore, they deserve to be interrogated.”

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