The plastics industry came of age during the Second World War.
After the invention of plastics by Alexander Parkes in the mid 1800s, plastics’ technology remained mostly dormant until World War II when Americans utilized the technology as piping around the wires found in its war machinery.
Copper, aluminum, steel, and zinc all became precious metals allocated for military use.
Because we had found a reason to invest time and resources into perfecting plastics’ technology, plastics’ capabilities enhanced during World War II, and we found it continuously easier to mold and create new objects made from plastics.
Desperate fabricators, who had never thought of plastic as a manufacturing material, began to reconsider.
Once the War was over, factories across the nation were left vacant, but the oil industry quickly devised a new plan to continue fostering its growth.
Cellulosics, acrylic, nylon, and especially phenolic and polyethylene became valuable materials.
Because plastic is a derivative of oil, oil companies decided to fill the factories with the tools they needed to begin mass producing single-use commodities made from plastic. So began the “Throwaway Living” era, a time which glorified the convenience of single-use plastics.
The Future of Plastic
Plastics are the primal material of the modern economy.
If business proceeds as usual, this number is projected to double to more than 600 million metric tons in the next 20 years. Yet functional benefits come at a price. Plastic packaging, especially, is the quintessential single-use product: it represents a quarter of the total volume of plastics, and around 95 percent of the value of plastic-packaging material (worth some $80 billion to $210 billion annually) is lost to the economy. And while its intended useful life is typically less than a year, the material lives on for centuries.
Today, we realize that the socially-conscious and healthy way to live is without disposable commodities. We will achieve a life without single-use plastics by halting the consumption of oil and innovating technologies to close the loop to the lifecycle of plastics and waste.