Plastic before the problem – How did it all begin?
1. Discovery 1869 – 1900
The first form of plastic was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt (an inexperienced chemist) as an alternative for ivory! Thanks to his breakthrough, it meant elephants, tortoises and corals were no longer killed for their desirable ivory, shells or unique colours! It was thought that by using plastic as a substitute, the natural world could be protected from exploitation.
2. Mass Production 1901 – 1950
In the following years, the first fully mass-produced synthetic plastic similar to the material we are familiar with today was invented in 1907. This type of plastic was a great electrical insulator being heat resistant, durable and easy to shape. It provided endless possibilities for manufacturing, with the production of plastic skyrocketing during World War II…
3. Becoming Mainstream 1951 – 1975
Plastics challenged traditional materials and won; replacing steel in cars, wood in furniture, paper and glass in packaging. It soon become the go-to material for all sorts of everyday items in the following decades as it was lighter, flexible and cheaper. Single-use packaging took the stage and it was seen as a desirable in society; saving time and effort cleaning up, simply throw it away and never think about it again.
4. Growing Concerns 1976-2020
The first red flags regarding plastic pollution were identified as early as the 1960s when plastic began accumulating in the oceans and awareness gained momentum in the following decades. In the 1980s, there was a strong push for recycling by the industry, but as we all know, plastic needs to be reduced at its source too. The late 2010’s was a key turning point for the world, solidifying action for plastic pollution on the global agenda and the importance of searching for plastic alternatives.
5. Where this leaves us
The unsettling irony is that plastic was first created to save natural resources and was even advertised as the “saviour of the elephant and the tortoise” but no one could have foreseen the impacts it would have on our planet in later years. So, what’s next?
Watch this space for more conversations around Plastic Free July and how we can all be a part of the solution.