Plastic: A Brief History
Invented in 1907, plastic revolutionized the world. Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, marked the beginning of the age of polymers, materials not found in nature, reshaping manufacturing and product design.
Plastic's Global Production Surge
Global plastic production has skyrocketed from 1.5 million tons in the 1950s to 368 million tons in 2019. This exponential increase reflects plastic's versatility, but also foretells the environmental challenges it poses.
From Crude Oil to Products
Plastics are derived from fossil fuels. The process involves extracting crude oil or natural gas, refining it into naphtha, and then polymerization transforms these chemicals into various types of plastics, each with unique properties.
Plastics' Diverse Life Spans
Not all plastics are equal; their lifespans vary widely. Biodegradable plastics can decompose within months, whereas conventional plastics can persist for hundreds of years, posing significant environmental threats.
Microplastics: Invisible Menace
Microplastics, fragments smaller than 5mm, are pervasive. They originate from larger plastic debris degradation and are now found everywhere, from the deepest oceans to Arctic ice, with largely unknown health implications.
Recycling: The Complex Reality
Only about 9% of plastics are recycled. The rest end up in landfills or the environment. Recycling is complicated by factors like contamination, plastic type, and market demand for recycled materials.
Innovations in Plastic Lifecycle
Scientists are developing bio-based and biodegradable plastics to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and improve end-of-life outcomes. Innovations also include chemical recycling techniques to break plastics back into their original monomers.