Well, no, not really. Sure, when it was invented, but not now. I mean, you know me, readers. I’m not an environmentalist. I hate hippies. But plastic is doing more harm than good. Every year, plastic thrown into our oceans kills over one million animals. 150,000 imperial tons of plastic is dumped into the sea each year by the fishing industry alone, including packaging, plastic nets, lines and buoys. It takes 450 years to start decomposing, a process that takes an additional 80 years. This means, remarkably, that every single plastic product ever made has not yet decomposed. And it’s not just the environment that’s getting screwed. Do you know how many Americans, on average, each year are treated in hospitals for injuries after attempting to open plastic packaging? 6,000! That’s insane…
Dr. Baekeland was the man who came up with the idea of plastic, as a possible replacement for shellac. We get the word ‘plastic’ from the Greek ‘plastikos’, meaning ‘capable of being shaped and moulded’. The very first plastic was known as Parkesine, invented by Alexander Parkes in 1856. That plastic will not have completely decomposed until, at the earliest, 2406. That’s 391 years from now! Plastic made this year won’t decompose completely until 2545!
Parkesine wasn’t a huge success because it was highly flammable, but it was a start. We had ‘plastic surgery’ by 1863 and credit and debit cards by 1969, known as ‘plastic money’. Today, in 2015, we use 500 billion plastic bags each year, with 13 billion new ones made each year. In fact, each year, we make enough plastic to shrink-wrap the entire state of Texas. Not a bad idea…
We now must deal with things such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the name given to a collection of marine debris comprised almost entirely of plastic. Research has found that most plastics leach hormone like chemicals. And plastic playground slides create enough static electricity to fry hearing aids. Seriously.
In 1941, Henry Ford made a car from hemp and soybean plastic, which ran on ethanol. We can fix the woes plastic gives us. Rwanda was the first country to ban plastic bags, and now tens and tens of countries worldwide have followed suit. The Beijing subways allow travellers to use plastic bottles as a form of payment to encourage recycling. And that’s wonderful! Plastic can be recycled and turned into all kinds of things – fleece jackets, park benches, seating, tables and much, much more.
In fact, there is even a species of fungus that lives in the Amazon that feeds on plastic. It can live on plastic alone, and can do so without oxygen. Scientists are looking at ways to exploit this, potentially leading the way toward new techniques for biomediation.
So if you can recycle plastic, do it! Just think about all the plastic that will be floating around the ocean in 2545. Your children will have descendents who will live in that world and wonder why the hell their ancestors didn’t do something about it. Plastic may have been fantastic to Baekeland, and yes, it revolutionised the human race. But we can’t survive on past glories. We have to realise that plastic does far more harm than good.
And that, readers, is the only time you’ll witness me don my environmentalist cap.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wash the stench of hippy off…
1) Henry Ford’s hemp and soybean plastic car, that ran on ethanol (credit: blog.hemmings.com)
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