It goes without saying that plastic has changed the world. Once considered a scientific wonder, plastic is now widely associated with leaching carcinogens into food and polluting the ocean. It’s not all bad though, and this wonder material has made a good impression on plenty of the tasks it takes on.
Plastic is now, and always has been, suitable for many uses. It’s light, formable, tough, transparent and waterproof. It’s changed quite a bit over time, from the first discovery into the plastics that we use so often today.
The First Form Of “Modern” Plastic
The first breakthrough that hinted at the type of plastics that we would use in a modern world was Bakelite, discovered by Leo Baekeland, a chemist. Bakelite was essentially the first plastic made from synthetic compounds. It was originally used for radio and telephone casings as it was electrically non-conductive and heat resistant.
Bakelite paved the way for the simple compound combinations that exist in the polymer plastics that we use today. Bakelite was the first plastic that was completely synthetic. It was not derived from animal parts or plants…but from phenol, an acid that comes from coal tar.
The Plastics That We Use Today
Ever since the launch of Bakelite in the early 1900’s, the use of plastic has exploded into hundreds of thousands of different compounds and is used more often than Leo Baekeland probably ever dreamed it would be. Just by tweaking the structure a little bit, plastic can be changed into a completely different polymer.
The possible uses for plastic are endless, and we continue to see conglomerates and companies worldwide put them to use. But at what cost?
The Effects Of Aggressive Plastic Use
Synthetic plastics are durable. Durable enough to last a lifetime or longer. In the early days of plastic, this fact was deemed a major plus. Today, the plastic that we create and then discard over and over again on a daily basis will likely end up in a landfill for a couple of those aforementioned lifetimes.
As humans begin to realize the damage they’ve done, plastics are set to evolve once again. Environmentally friendly, biodegradable plastics are currently in a state of production and constant development.
Bio-technology is a major player in the current plastics game, as scientists look to a better way to package product. Plastics will always be a way of life, ever-changing as we examine their impact on the Earth.