Plastic fantastic: How it changed the world

From BBC - January 11, 2018

In little more than a century, plastic has gone from being hailed as a scientific wonder to being reviled as an environmental scourge.

It was in 1907 that the first modern plastic, bakelite, was invented.

It pointed the way to a whole family of products based on synthetic polymers - that is, compounds of large molecules made up of simple repeated units.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, improvements in manufacturing processes brought the cost of making plastics down dramatically, paving the way for cheap mass production.

"Plastic is an amazing substance, an amazing invention," Ian Jamie, managing director of Coventry-based manufacturer Staeger Clear Packaging, told the BBC. "It's lightweight, it's tough, transparent, waterproof."

Here to stay

It's not too much of a stretch to say that plastic made the modern world possible.

Many things that we take for granted today depend on it. Milk, for instance, no longer has to be delivered in glass bottles, making it safer and less cumbersome to transport.

Plastic has also allowed supermarkets to offer a wider range of fresher produce in a variety of portion sizes.

Grapes sold in sealed trays rather than loose bunches have reduced waste in stores by more than 20%, retail analysts say.

Consumers are advised by the Food Standards Agency to put raw chicken in a plastic bag to avoid the risk of food poisoning.

Modern medicine has also greatly benefited from the disposable plastic syringe, invented in 1955.

According to the British Plastics Federation, studies have also shown that if plastic packaging had to be replaced by other materials, it would lead to a rise in consumption of packaging, in terms of mass, energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

More costly?


Continue reading at BBC »