The history of plastics and environmental facts
Plastic, the material that has polluted our oceans, living organisms and has managed to rapidly penetrate our every day lives to a point where thinking of a life where we do not produce plastic waste seems difficult if not impossible.
In this article you will learn where plastic came from, some important and shocking facts of its impact on our planet and we will pave the way for some solutions and alternatives to it.
The History of Plastics
Plastic was many years ago seen as an environmental savior that would save wildlife around the world. Before John Wesley Hyatt came up with the first synthetic polyemer made of treated cellulose, ivory was used instead of plastic. This was putting a serious pressure on populations of wild elephants and tortoises. This was a revolutionary moment in human history, since humans where no longer constrained to natural resources to manufacture, let's call this the start of the "Plastics Revolution".
It wasn't until 1907, when Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic with no molecules found in nature. It was marketed as "the material of a thousand uses" it allowed for the manufacturing of any product due to its highly mouldable and resistant properties.
Soon after companies and research groups all around the globe started to innovate new kinds of plastics, without really providing any solutions to problems, they thought that finding a use would come later. Nylon was invented in 1935, later used for parachutes, ropes and military applications. Plexiglas came to replace glass in windows of vehicles and structures.
A new material was born, many wondered if this was a before and after for human development, and it probably was but many years after we would come to the realisation that plastic would also play a big role for our home, planet earth. In this case not so positive. Oil spills in the 70s, rapidly increasing concentrations of plastic debris in the sea and incoming new research about the dangers of chemical pesticides made people start to re-think its widespread use and soon it would be a major point for activists groups to fight against.
Fast-track to 2021, a year where we have increased rapidly the use of single-use plastics due to the health crises that we are undergoing at the same time that governments and companies are demanded to ban single-use plastics and replace them by sustainable materials that do not harm our environment. New incoming regulation is banning single-use plastic plastic bags, straws and many single-use products that scientists have shown to take more than 500 years to disappear and are everywhere we go, including inside the food we eat. But we need more, more from companies, more from our governments and more from ourselves.
Did you know that plastic.. Important facts about plastic.
- More than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are already floating in our oceans. Source
- Worldwide, 73 percent of beach litter is plastic: filters from cigarette butts, bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags, and polystyrene containers. Source
- World plastic production has increased exponentially from 2.1 million tonnes in 1950 to 147 million in 1993 to 406 million by 2015. Source
- By 2050, virtually every seabird species on the planet will be eating plastic. Source
- As of 2015, more than 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste had been generated. Around 9 percent of that was recycled, 12 percent was incinerates, and 79 percent accumulated in landfills or environment. Source
- Around the world, nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute, use reusable bottles. Source
- Estimated for how long plastic stays around us range from 450 years to forever. Source
- More than 40 percent of plastic is used just once, then thrown away. Source .
The solution to single-use plastic.
There is no doubt that plastic has helped our civilisation to accelerate the transition towards modern living. Medicine, technology, health and safety, food, transport and housing among others are areas that have benefited from plastic and will carry on requiring the use of this material to make affordable our journey towards a more developed future but we should keep at all times in mind its environmental and social impact.
Reusable products are one of the easiest and most accessible ways in which we can avoid single-use packaging and products ending up polluting our environment. From using reusable water bottles to reusable shopping bags there is a lot that we can do about plastic to avoid unnecessary use of it in our daily routines and all these changes can be fun while sustainable.
Additionally, enough plastic has now been produced to meet our world's needs for manufacturing of essential products and parts, there is no need to produce new products from virgin plastic. Cleaning our ocean and environment from all plastic waste and making durables products with it, may be the best solution that we have right now for plastic until the next big development in material science gifts us a replacement that is just as good for industry as it is for the planet. Making giant steps towards cleaning our oceans and rivers from plastic and turning this plastic waste into valuable products made from 100% ocean plastic waste is The Ocean Clean Up.
In later posts, we will go deeper into solutions, alternatives and organisations that are paving the way towards a plastic free future.
Now you have the knowledge, the solutions and the power to implement this change that makes a big difference to our planet and for the health of life on earth. Make sure to teach and share what you learn along the way, because together we are the solution!