The History of Plastic

A Brief History of Plastic

Plastic plays such a huge part in reducing waste because it is used in just about everything. Much of it is not recyclable, and only 75% of what is recyclable reaches a recycling facility. It is not compostable and it is not biodegradable. Every piece of plastic ever created, still exists. Here is a brief history of just how this plastic explosion came to be.

Plastic came to prominence at the end of the 19th century.  Tortoise Shell Combs were destroying the hawksbill turtle population.  Ivory combs and billiard balls were decimating the elephant population.  A plastic called celluloid, from the celloid fibers of cotton, was created that could replace both the tortoise shell and the ivory.  This plant based celluloid was one of the first materials to lead us into a consumptive society of manufactured products. 

Bakelite was the first synthetic plastic developed to replace shellac. It took fifteen thousand beetles six months to make enough of the amber-colored resin needed to produce a pound of shellac. And with the growing America, we needed a lot more.

Bakelite could be molded into just about any product from car accessories, to phones, to washing machine blades, to hand held irons and affordable silk-like leggings. These thermoplastics represent about 90% of all the plastics manufactured today.

The new plastics age allowed people to buy their way into a higher class of living. During WWII, most of the plastics industry was centered on the war. But following the end of the war, all that plastic had to go somewhere and the plastics industry exploded.Here

  • Greenpeace researchers estimate that 90% of plastics produced worldwide are not recycled.
  • The amount that reaches our seas is equivalent to one truckload a minute.
  • Incineration, another common plastic waste management method, can be injurious to health, due to release of toxic chemicals during incineration.
  • Eighty percent of marine waste comes from land sources and an additional 20% is dumped by ocean liners and platforms
  • Sunlight and ocean currents shred plastic debris into smaller particles called microplastics.
  • Sea life mistakes the microplastics for food.
  • The Race team ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic,’ identified over three million micro plastic particles per square kilometer of ocean.
  • When people refuse plastic bags, disposable coffee cups and straws, we can make a huge impact.
  • Scientists predict that if we do not take action, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
  • Americans use 100 billion plastic bags annually.
  • Americans use about 50 billion plastic water bottles each year, that’s 1,500 every second.
  • The average American uses 167 disposable water bottles in a year but only recycles 38 bottles or 23%.
  • The 77% that are not recycled (about 38 billion bottles) have an estimated worth of about $1 billion.
  • Coca-Cola manufactures up to 110 billion bottles a year.
  • 17 million barrels of oil are used annually to meet America’s demand for bottled water, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for one year. That’s not including the oil used for transportation. 

Even if everything the U.S. manufactures could be recycled, if we do not put an item into a recycle bin . . . it will go to the landfill.

Consumers are encouraging restaurants to provide compostable take home containers. However, if the consumer does not have access to a compost bin, it doesn’t matter if the container is compostable or not. It will go to the landfill, because a compostable container cannot be recycled. It must go to a compost bin.

Manufacturers are working to create compostable and edible dishes and flatware.  If the item does not go into a compost bin, it will go to the landfill, because it is not recyclable.

Compostable and biodegradable items in a landfill do not compost or biodegrade because of lack of oxygen.

We must educate and impassion people to help us change the world.

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