Plastic has a bad name from recent press but it serves a purpose and has evolved over time. Let’s take a look back in time to see where it came from and how it has evolved over time. Rather than be anti-plastic, we need to understand how we can use it sensibly and avoid unnecessary waste.

The invention of plastic

In 1907 the first fully-synthetic, commercially-successful plastic was invented by Leo Hendrik Baekeland (a Belgian-American chemist). Bakelite, (as it was known then), was made by combining phenol with formaldehyde under heat to create a condensation reaction, this produced the polymer resin Baekeland called Bakelite.

Who invented plastic as we know it today

The first manmade plastic was parkesine, invented by Alexander Parkes (UK) (1813-1890). Derived from plant cellulose, the shape of parkesine could be molded when heated, but it kept its shape once cooled. He unveiled his invention at the Great International Exhibition in London, UK in 1862.

Did you know plastic can be a natural resource?

Plastics are derived from materials found in nature, such as natural gas, oil, coal, minerals and plants. The very first plastics came from nature—did you know that rubber from a rubber tree is actually a plastic?

The rubber tree

Rubber is harvested mainly in the form of the latex from the rubber tree. The latex is a sticky, milky colloid collected by making incisions in the bark (as shown in the image above) and collecting the fluid in vessels in a process called “tapping”. The latex is refined into rubber ready for commercial processing. In major areas, latex is allowed to coagulate in the collection cup.

Did you know there are 7 types of commercial plastic?

Interested to know more about these 7? Click here to learn more

When was the first plastic bottle made?

Plastic Bottles

Plastic bottles were first used commercially in 1947 but remained relatively expensive until the early 1950s, when high-density polyethylene was introduced.

Who invented the first plastic bag

Now we start getting into the type of plastics, which today receive such bad press.

The modern lightweight shopping bag is the invention of Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin. In the early 1960s, Thulin developed a method of forming a simple one-piece bag by folding, welding and die-cutting a flat tube of plastic for the packaging company Celloplast of Norrköping, Sweden.

Which country produces the most plastic?

Europe accounted for 57 million tonnes (22 percent) of the global consumption last year, while China claimed 23.5 percent of the world production of plastics. Asian countries also continue to import plastic raw material from Europe.