The History of Plastic

Plastics: First Intended to be the Solution of Natural Resource Limitations

The word ‘plastic’ originally referred to a material that was flexible and easily formed. Only in the early 80s did the word ‘plastic’ change to represent polymeric material. The polymer itself means ‘made up of many parts’ or many molecular chains. Natural polymers can be found in nature, for example, cellulose derived from plants.

It was only in the mid-1800s that humans began creating synthetic polymers or artificial polymers. Sometimes synthetic polymers also use a mixture of natural materials such as cellulose, but often synthetic polymers use many carbon atoms derived from petroleum and fossil resources. Synthetic polymers have strong, lightweight, and flexible characteristics. Synthetic polymers have ‘plastic’ properties.

Before the creation of plastics, the industry was totally dependent on nature: one of them was paper that was derived from wood. Paper is easy to shape and lightweight, but it is not strong, does not last long, and consumes a supply of wood which is important for the earth’s oxygen availability and environmental preservation

In 1800s, synthetic polymer or plastic is originally invented to replace the use of paper that requires insurmountable of wood (source: Forbes)
In 1800s, synthetic polymer or plastic is originally invented to replace the use of paper that requires insurmountable of wood (source: Forbes)

The use of other materials such as metals, stones, bones, horns, fangs, is also not easy to obtain and easy to process, so scientists are looking for alternative materials that can be mass-produced, lightweight, strong, durable, inexpensive, and not entirely dependent on natural resources.

So when synthetic polymers, later known as plastics, were discovered and developed, the plastic revolution began in the industrial world.

Although mostly for economic and practical reasons, plastic, which is currently overwhelming us, was originally created as a solution to maintain the availability of natural resources on earth.

Although mostly for economic and practical reasons, plastic, which is currently overwhelming us, was originally created as a solution to maintain the availability of natural resources on earth.

Plastic Development

The following is a summary of the development of synthetic polymers from the first time they were discovered until today:

The picture of Leo Bakeland, the inventor of Bakelite plastic (source: BBC.com)
  1. In 1839, Charles Goodyear accidentally discovered a process called vulcanization that created rubber material that was more elastic and stronger. This material created by Charles Goodyear was also one of the first polymer combinations to be discovered
  2. In 1846, Charles Schonbein, a chemist from Switzerland, discovered nitrocellulose accidentally while spilling a mixture of nitric acid-sulfuric acid on cotton.
  3. In 1855, Alexander Parkes discovered Celluloid or commonly called Parkesine, which is a mixture of cellulose nitrate and camphor/lime. Celluloid or Parkesine is the first thermoplastic that has a flexible character when exposed to heat and returns stiff when cold.
  4. The first industrial plastics were created in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, who was then challenged with a prize of $ 10,000 from a company in New York for anyone who could find alternative materials from ivory.
  5. In 1907, Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian born in America created Bakelite, the first synthetic polymer created from a mixture of phenol and formaldehyde.
  6. In the 1930s, chemists from Dupont named Wallace Carruthers discovered a combination of polymers from adipic acid condensation and certain types of diaminohexane monomers that could be stretched and formed into strong threads, similar to silk. This lightweight, strong, and durable material is known as Nylon.
Nylon, a form of synthetic polymer, is created in 1930s by Wallace Carruthers (Source: BT.com)
Nylon, a form of synthetic polymer, is created in 1930s by Wallace Carruthers (Source: BT.com)
An ad about Nylon in 1930s (source: every day is special)

After that, various synthetic polymers and their combinations with materials began to be discovered, such as silicon implants discovered in 1962, PVC plastic types found in 1969, HDPE type plastic materials discovered in 1970, also bioplastic (plastic made from natural resource and fairly easy to degrade compared to synthetic plastic) was first discovered by Maurice Lemoigne in 1926. (Read also: The 7 Types of Plastic)

The Plastic Dilemma

Plastic is proven to be useful in many ways. Although it becomes one of our most concerning problems now, we can not deny the fact that plastic is still needed for several fields in our life, such as: medic and health.

There are many medical instruments and medical conditions that could be helped and better improved by using plastic. Patient with severe neural condition like Parkinson, elders with movement problems, toddlers that are still learning to train their motor skill, they all need a flexible, lightweight, but durable material in their daily life.

Many medical instruments are made using plastic (source: craftech industries)
Many medical instruments are made using plastic (source: craftech industries)

Plastic is still one of human’s best inventions. But we produced it too many, too fast, so it piled up and we need to find ways to slow down and reduce the mount of plastic we have built so high.

Bioplastic, although intended to be a solution to the need for synthetic plastic and its recycling process in nature, still invites pros and cons.

Bioplastic is meant to be degraded faster than synthetic plastic (source: ecoticias)
Bioplastic is meant to be degraded faster than synthetic plastic (source: ecoticias)

Bioplastic still has to undergo many tests and developments to really be able to decompose easily in nature and leave a minimum impact on the environment. To be used optimally, bioplastic still needs a special system (such as UV rays and certain bacteria to help with the degradation process), and this means that we need to prepare ourselves better if we ever decided to change the use of polymer synthetic plastic with bioplastic.

If we don’t do that, the bioplastic could be our next problem, just like what happened between plastic and paper some hundred years ago.

Waste4Change’s Plastic Waste Solution

At Waste4Change, we segregate plastic waste in detail and make sure that every parts are going to be recycled by the right hand. Carrying our business in accordance with the local policies and the concept of circular economy, we also encourages our clients and communities to reduce their waste, especially residual plastic waste. (Read Also: Everything you Need to Know about Residual Waste)

Through the service Zero-Waste to Landfill (w4c.id/ZWTL), recommended for companies, institutions, and restaurants, we make sure that their residual plastic waste do not end up in the landfill.

Waste4Change also accepts several types of plastic waste through various services. People could send their inorganic waste through expedition and delivery services to our Send Your Waste program (w4c.id/SYW). This service is free and we will process the waste optimally and responsibly to reduce the amount of residual waste that ends up in the landfill.

Waste that can be sent through the Send Your Waste Waste4Change program is:

  • Low-quality plastic bag
  • Clear plastic bag
  • Mica
  • Plastic sachets (a kind of coffee wrap and instant noodles)
  • Laminated plastic
  • plastic Straw
  • Plastic bottle

Plastic waste (or plastic combination) that cannot be sent to Send Your Waste – Waste4Change:

  • Used diaper
  • Used sanitary napkins
  • Hazardous waste
  • Electronic waste

For several districts in South Jakarta, South Tangerang, Bekasi City, East Jakarta, and Central Jakarta, Waste4Change provides inorganic waste pick-up service directly from home: Personal Waste Management (w4c.id/PWM)

Thank you for helping to improve plastic recycling!

Source:

  • https://www.plasticseurope.org/en/about-plastics/what-are-plastics/history#:~:text=We%20know%20it%20today%20as,synthetic%2C%20mass%2Dproduced%20plastic.
  • https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics
  • https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27442625
  • https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-brief-history-of-plastic-world-conquest/
  • https://www.plasticsindustry.org/history-plastics
  • https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2017/12/13/the-truth-about-bioplastics/
  • https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/plastic-problem/what-is-plastic/bioplastics/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI1aH8q4yn6gIV0XwrCh11jwojEAAYAyAAEgI3qfD_BwE
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