How did plastic take over our lives

Plastic pollution
Say no to plastic?

Indeed, life is all about plastic & plastic pollution!

The word plastic triggers a few thoughts in our minds. They pop-up no sooner we hear the word.

I often stumble on plastic pollution, plastic in the sea, in mountains, plastic carriers and cups.

I am sure; all of you have lived your lives around plastics. In fact, the 80s and the 90s generations grew up around plastic pollutants and their daily benefits.

How we weaved plastic into our lives

  • On such rainy days, plastic carriers turned into mini umbrellas around your head.
  • Balloons were made out of them; even bombs that exploded with a loud sound were made of plastic.
  • Over the years as I grew up I realized how useful it was. I could grow tiny plants in them; I could do anything with them.
  • Often, it was that one thing which, if you had with you, it could make life easy.
  • Murder mysteries weaved with the murder weapon being nothing else but a simple plastic bag.

But overuse of a blessing soon turned it into a curse and sooner plastic pollution took over.

No longer was it a boon in disguise, rather it took up a monstrous shape.

Almost after twenty years of non-stop use, the world realized they were non-biodegradable. Soon, everybody began protesting the use of plastics. Almost 30 years of unawareness suddenly gave way to a non-plastic zone movement.

  • Plastic cups considered hygienic at a point got replaced by paper cups or kulhars (cups made of mud- long lost with the advent of plastic).
  • Oceans were found to be full of plastics, so were our fishes.
  • Even my pet cat eats the black plastic we use to carry fish from the stalls.

Is Plastic only on Earth’s surface

The answer is a firm “No.”

It is estimated an 80% of the ocean’s debris is nothing else but plastics.

An unimaginable 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year. Almost 360-400 million tons of plastic are present in our ocean beds if you simply go by this data collected from  40 years of continuous plastic use.

It is forecasted, if people don’t stop using plastic, it would not be far when the oceans would be full of plastics. Almost 800-850 million tonnes of plastic are being claimed to be there in the ocean by 2050.

Plastic has become a habit. It weaved itself in so fast that humans almost forgot that plastic was never a part of our history, culture, or traditions. It was merely useful but people kept experimenting and its utilities kept expanding.

Who is to be blamed then if not us

We cannot obviously blame ourselves, so it must be someone.

That someone is the one who first invented plastic?

Alexander Parkes first invented plastic in 1862 and presented it to the world at the London International Exhibition. Rarely did he know the fate of plastic in 2050 and he was no forecaster. Elephants were hunted down in those days for the precious ivory. What he did though did not stop people from stealing ivory by killing these gigantic animals, rather it added up to it.

But, Parkes made plastic called “Parkesine” to stop people from excessively abusing ivory and horns.

He built it as a synthetic substitute for shellac. But then Parkesine failed to draw the crowd. It was not until John Wesley Hyatt of Albany, New York found a way with it. He made what is commonly known today as celluloid.

Brief History

Learn a bit more about how plastic changed our lives. Do not forget to stop blaming our past, for it is here that they failed to see the future. Precisely, they had to choose between keeping the elephants from becoming fables in a hundred years and the alarming facts we hear today about it.

19th century changes with plastic

  • While Parkesine was derived from organic compounds mostly cellulose, Dr. Leo Bakeland brought the first synthetic plastic to the world- Bakelite marking the beginning of the plastic industries in 1907.
  • Polymers came in 1920 with Herman Staudinger. Polymers are just not plastic but even biologically active substances like DNA.
  • World War II finally unleashed the true potential of plastic products into the world.
  • Polyethylene came up in England. It was that one state-held secret that proved beneficial for the British. British planes used them and thus the weight of British planes was far lesser than their German varieties.
  • Nylon by DuPont quickly was shifted to the use of the US military. They made nylon ropes (with much higher tensile strength) and parachutes out of it.
  • Expanded polystyrene was built by a chemist accidentally. Its use in making thermal insulators and shock absorbers was quickly realized.
  • From the 1950s onwards, plastic manufacturing units started profiting more than any other industrial unit and this is where the industry caught fire expanding everywhere like the forest wildfire.
  • HDPE (High Density Poly Ethylene)-polysulfone-para-aramid synthetic varieties gripped the market.
  • The oil embargoes of the late 80s and early 90s brought people to realize the utility of bio-plastics. It is only a few years now that the synthetic plastic ban has been strictly implemented in every country to full effect.

An oil embargo is a situation where the trade of oil is banned between one country and another.

Did you know that almost 8-10% of the oil (12 million barrels a year) we import from other nations or export out of our nations goes into their making?

Its various utilities

It is everywhere. It is why our,

Airplanes are lighter,

Our lives are smoother,

The parachutes are sturdier,

Our space suits are stronger than void,

The world of medicines could be so flawlessly designed & manufactured.

It is what makes all the difference we see around us today.

But then, the same blessing that came disguised as an innocent revolutionary product has become one of the most highly talked about, as one of the Evil of today.

Note: We shall continue into the topic in our later posts

Read more about Green technology here and in the coming posts.

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