Plastic and The Modern World

plastic products on beach

Where Did Plastic Come From?

            Plastic Products came to existence through the chemical modification of natural materials such as rubber, nitrocellulose, collagen, and gallate. As humans, we like to change natural materials and turn them into something more beneficial to us. Yet, it is always at the cost of the environment. The development of plastic products started with the use of materials that had plastic properties, such as shellac and chewing gum. The wide range of plastics we now know today started developing about 100 years ago. An inventor by the name of Alexander Parkes invented one of the earliest plastic products in 1855. He called his invention Parkesine, which we know today as celluloid. Since this first development, we have seen an evolution of plastic materials that have been developed and released.

What Are In These Products?

            Understanding the exact science of what occurs at plastic manufacturers is confusing and unnecessary to understand the effects plastic has on our environment. Even the most conscientious consumer is buying plastic out of convenience. The first thing to know is that all plastic manufacturers are adding a lot of chemicals to their products. These chemicals allow the plastic products to be stronger, more or less flexible, and whatever other characteristics the manufacturers want their product to have. Other additives to the product may include water repellent, stiffeners, softeners or pigments. These chemicals and additives can be toxic and very powerful. Just think about the water you are drinking that has been sitting in plastic bottles, whose very essence is a chemical and possibly very toxic base. 

recycling plastic products

Biodegradable Plastics

            To help our planet, there has been a development of biodegradable plastics. For those of you who don’t know exactly what a biodegradable product is, it is material that can break down into natural, raw materials by microorganisms over some time. However, there has been some dispute over biodegradable plastic products as they don’t quite break down the way biodegradable products are supposed to. It seems that these biodegradable plastics just break down into smaller pieces of plastic, which does not benefit the environment in any way. Many states have banned plastic manufacturers from using the title “biodegradable” on their plastic goods because it has yet to be proven that these products are actually biodegradable. 

What About Compostable Materials?

            With the new wave of the healthy, organic and all-natural lifestyle that has become mainstream in our society, there have been many efforts made to create products that are better for our planet. After all, mother nature does a lot to provide a sacred space for us, we might as well look after her to ensure the longevity of her health. Because of the efforts made to preserve our earth, there have been efforts to make compostable plastic items. For an object to be compostable, it has to be able to break down into its natural elements, whatever materials it was composed of, in a specific composting environment. Some plastics have been made compostable, however, they can’t compost in just any environment. Plastics require an environment with a much higher heat for a specific amount of time to become fully biodegradable. Because it has such a niche composting environment, plastics don’t often become completely biodegradable. 

What Makes Up Plastic?

            Let’s talk about the very essence of how plastic is made. Strictly talking in scientific terms, Plastic, also referred to as Polymers, is produced by linking together small cells, or building blocks. These small cells, which are also called monomers, are made up of groups of atoms that come from natural products. Different plastics have different makeups. For example, plastics like nylons have 38 or more atoms whereas other plastics might just contain one carbon atom and two hydrogen atoms. Regardless of what their specific makeup is, once together, the chains of building blocks become strong, light and long-lasting, which is what makes them so beneficial. This is also what makes them an issue when they are thrown out carelessly. Plastics are made to be durable which benefits us, the consumers, but leaves a harmful effect on the planet when they do not go away as easily as we would like. 

container plastic products

Who Created Plastic?

            The man who invented plastic went by the name of Leo Baekeland. He invented the world’s first fully synthetic plastic in New York in 1907. Leo Baekeland was also the first to coin the term “plastics”. Herman Mark is another scientist who has been in the category of men who invented plastic, but his contribution was nowhere near as large as Leo Baekeland. While scientifically the development of plastics was revered and was a huge intellectual accomplishment for mankind, the long-term negative effect that plastics would have on our environment far out way the pros of this discovery. But, as human nature be it, we would much rather lean toward convenience. We often take the easy way out because we’re too caught up in our day to day lives to think about the long-term effects of each decision we make. However, soon after the discovery of plastic, they came to realize the dangerous marks it would leave on the environment. Thus, recycling was born. 

The Recycling Controversy 

            While many people think that taking time to place their plastics in the recycling bin rather than just straight into the garbage is the difference that will save this planet, that might not necessarily be the case. As much as we’d like to think it was that simple, it’s not. We can give recycling the credit it deserves, it does seem like a great idea. The essence of recycling is taking items that we were putting in waste and reusing them. Brilliant in theory, we can all agree. Not to mention, word on the street is that we are running out of landfill space, which is where we love to dump our trash. So, making use of old items would be beneficial in more ways than one. However, recycling actually might be doing more harm than good. 

The Scary Truth About Recycling 

            Turns out, a lot of energy goes into recycling, way more than we would like. With collecting recyclables, preparing them and then converting them into new products, so much energy is consumed that it can cause way more pollution than using fresh materials. Recycling also takes large amounts of money that could be put to more useful ways to help the environment. So, if we look at all these negative factors that go into recycling, it is not only a waste of time and money but also counterproductive. No matter how we look at it, there are no benefits to plastic outside of its convenience for our selfish needs. Recycling was an attempt to fix a much greater issue. Similar to patching up a gaping hole, eventually the patch won’t be able to hold for too long. Recycling would not get rid of the issue. 

Is It Possible To Live Without Plastics?

            I am sure it is very possible that we could live in a world where there is no plastic. The real question is, is this doable? To be quite honest, I think plastic has become too present in every aspect of our lives that it may be too difficult to wean ourselves off of it. From the bags we carry our groceries in, to almost every bottle in the supermarket, plastics have infiltrated their way into every aspect of our society. For the past 70 years, our plastic usage has grown obdurately to where we produce a gross amount every year. Because plastic usage numbers have become alarmingly high efforts are being made to reduce usage. It is an era of higher consciousness and activists are making huge leaps to change our ways, but it comes down to members of our society going that extra step.

Single-Use Plastics

            A huge category of plastics that are used is single-use plastics such as grocery bags and takeout containers. These items are used constantly and thrown away immediately. There are some countries, such as Australia, that have banned the use of plastic bags in all supermarkets. The United States hasn’t made it there quite yet. However, it is relieving to know that there are countries out there taking the leap, making the effort to procreate change. 

plastic products bad for the environment

How Does Plastic Affect Our Health?

            Plastic poses a threat to our health from every stage of their creation. According to many studies, many health problems are that are caused by our addiction to plastic use. Certain forms of cancers, diabetes and organ malfunctions can be pointed directly to the use of plastic and plastic pollution. Our eyes and skin are also easily affected by our plastic use. These negative factors of plastic use and pollution don’t just affect humans and the environment but wildlife as well. Many scientists have claimed that plastic pollution is a threat to human life, yet it might be more difficult to get rid of than we think.

We Might Need To Use Plastic

While there are certain plastics we can get rid of, such as plastic bags from the grocery store, there are so many plastics that do play important roles. For example, single-use plastics are a key part of infection control when it comes to taking medicine. Not to mention, having a blood test requires gloves made from plastic, as well as a plastic syringe and plastic vial. These are all single-use plastics that are necessary to control contamination and infection. There has been a conversation about using glass as a replacement to the plastic products but that raises the issue of cleaning. How do you keep the glass sterile enough to avoid infection? It is also important to consider the availability of resources. Glass is a more expensive material to use and resources might be limited, especially in countries that can’t afford more expensive materials. In these cases, plastic is the easier and safer option. 

How Does Plastic Affect Our Health?

            Plastic poses a threat to our health from every stage of their creation. According to many studies, many health problems are that are caused by our addiction to plastic use. Certain forms of cancers, diabetes and organ malfunctions can be pointed directly to the use of plastic and plastic pollution. Our eyes and skin are also easily affected by our plastic use. These negative factors of plastic use and pollution don’t just affect humans and the environment but wildlife as well. Many scientists have claimed that plastic pollution is a threat to human life, yet it might be more difficult to get rid of than we think.

We Might Need To Use Plastic

While there are certain plastics we can get rid of, such as plastic bags from the grocery store, there are so many plastics that do play important roles. For example, single-use plastics are a key part of infection control when it comes to taking medicine. Not to mention, having a blood test requires gloves made from plastic, as well as a plastic syringe and plastic vial. These are all single-use plastics that are necessary to control contamination and infection. There has been a conversation about using glass as a replacement to the plastic products but that raises the issue of cleaning. How do you keep the glass sterile enough to avoid infection? It is also important to consider the availability of resources. Glass is a more expensive material to use and resources might be limited, especially in countries that can’t afford more expensive materials. In these cases, plastic is the easier and safer option. 

 So, It Actually Might Be Useful

            On the topic of keeping things sterile, plastics are also used to package food. While this is not necessary in this country, it is necessary in third world countries that can’t afford or don’t have access to some of the resources we do. Single-use packaging makes sure that food and water are safe and avoid contamination. With the aid and emergency response efforts, sending packaged food is a huge part of foreign aid. Single-use plastics are used to keep this food and water fresh without the use of refrigerators to be distributed whenever is necessary without a time limit. In cases like these single-use plastics are a key part of this aid and the ability we have to help third world countries. Because of these factors, we have to recognize that there is a use for plastics and it would be hard to replace plastics with other materials in scenarios such as these. 

How Can We Make A Change? 

            While we recognize the horrible effects that plastic has on our environment, we cannot deny that there are benefits to plastic outside of just convenience. It plays a huge role in keeping things sterile because plastic is so easily disposable. On the downside, this is a never-ending cycle of using and disposing of plastic that is leaving a detrimental effect on our planet. While it may be hard to find a material to replace plastics used in foreign aid and medical use, there are smaller efforts we can make to reduce our usage. For example, getting rid of plastic utensils is an easy way to cut down usage and plastic utensils are not imperative to anyone’s life. Another way we can cut down plastic usage is by buying reusable straws. While it may be annoying to carry around a straw, it is an easy way to make effective change. The longevity of our planet, our wildlife, and our health are in our hands. We have a responsibility to ourselves and the planet to make a change. 

The pollution of plastic has a huge impact on the health and environment of Earth’s wildlife. Through our fine art photography and gallery exhibitions in New York City, we promote awareness to support the animals being affected. Visit our CONSERVATION PAGE to learn more and how you can help too.

VIEW OUR WILDLIFE PICTURE GALLERY

Horses | Lions | Elephants | Monkeys | Bears | Birds | Snowy Owls | Arctic Wolves | Mountain Lions | Musk Oxen | Bald Eagles | Bison | Reindeer | Arctic Fox | VIEW ALL