The Suitcase Lady

Plastic

June 12, 2018, 7:03 pm

A grocery store in the Netherlands just made news by introducing an aisle of diverse food items all of which are free of plastic packaging. This got me thinking about plastic. It also made me wish I could shop in that store.

Plastic has an interesting history. Elephants probably escaped extinction because of its invention. In the late 1800’s, billiards was all the rage and billiard balls as well as all piano keys were made from ivory. The invention of a plastic called cellulose at that time spared many elephant lives.

bakelite jewelry

In 1907, the first fully-synthetic, commercially successful plastic was invented by a Belgian-American named Leo Hendrik Baekeland. He named it Bakelite which is much easier to say than its chemical name polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride.

World War II was the catalyst that made plastic go viral. Rubber was scarce and a substitutes had to be used. Every GI got a plastic, formerly rubber, comb in his hygiene kit. Parts for military vehicles and planes, ropes, insulators and multiple other wartime uses of plastic caused its production to increase 300%.

After the war ended, the plastic factories turned to making plastics for the booming consumer goods sector. Tupperware was invented in 1946. A flood of plastic products and packaging soon took over every corner of the marketplace.

Now, in 2018, the world is literally being chocked with plastics almost all of which take 500 years to decompose in a landfill. Oceans, lakes and landfills have become plastic storage sites. Yet, technology exists to burn plastic to create electricity. European countries are doing this safely and successfully. New types of plastics are also being invented that decompose more rapidly. Unfortunately, an industry that generates trillions of dollars in sales will not change quickly.

Despite my best efforts, I still find myself drowning in plastic. Peanut butter doesn’t come in glass jars nor shampoo in glass bottles. Even major parts of my car are plastic.

The other day at the grocery store I bought three items. “Don’t give me a plastic bag,” I said to the check out person,”I’ll just put them in my purse.” He looked at me like I was crazy. Fortunately, I’m not. I’m just fond of my planet.

Consider this sobering fact from a 2017 study in the journal Science Advances. Of the roughly 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics produced worldwide since the 1950s, about 6.3 billion have been thrown away.

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