A life less plastic?
A sort of guide to plastic free-ish July..
We have all heard about plastic. It’s a universal issue. I say universal as there is even plastic rubbish flying around space as we speak.
So where to begin? Well, let’s start at the beginning…
Plastic was principally created to fill the need for growing industries where materials such as horn, bone, animal skin and cork had previously been used. As the natural materials declined, so the need for an alternative grew.
In 1862, English born Alexander Parkes found that by dissolving cotton fibres in nitric and sulphuric acid and mixed with a common vegetable oil, it created cellulose nitrate. A pliable, durable semi hard material. This semi synthetic plastic was a breakthrough for a booming industry and global population. Suddenly everyone could buy items that were once for the rich elite; such as hair combs and glasses.
Then, in 1907 a Belgian chemist named Leo Baekeland found by placing formaldehyde and phenol under great pressure and heat, it could meld the chemical components together and combine to make what was called Bakelite. Bakelite was easily produced on a large scale to create household goods such as telephones and radios.
It is at this stage in human history where it was possible to mass manufacture goods for the consumer market. Hurrah.
This led to an explosion of tests and trials by big conglomerate industries such as oil giants; ExxonMobil and DuPont and chemistry industries to find the next new, and better, plastic.
Formed in 1926, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) had its first big plastic success with Perspex in 1932 and then, during a trial of combining ethylene and benzaldehyde they discovered a polymer of ethylene: Now the world’s most abundant plastic, polyethylene was a wonder material: strong, flexible and heat-resistant.
So what is the problem? Hasn’t it solved so many issues? Well, yes, and no. Plastic is amazing, it is strong, it is flexible and it lasts… so… many… years… What the problem is, is our relationship to it. It is so convenient and so easy to mold that it is used for everything; it becomes single use as its convenient.
What we need to be doing is really taking a long hard look at what we use plastic for. It is more durable, and consumes less energy to create than paper or cardboard, but it also takes years and years to break down.
So really it’s simple. If you are going to buy something that is made of plastic, think about whether you actually need it, how many times it can be reused or whether it can be used for something else. Or buy second hand, and avoid all the plastic wrapping altogether.
Really it’s not plastic that’s the problem: it’s us.
And stop buying glitter. The End.
Picture credit: Wikipedia.