A Word About Plastics

What comes to mind when you think about plastic products? "Recyclable", "malleable", and "found everywhere"-- The top 3 descriptors for any plastic product. Think about it. There are  probably upwards of a dozen different types of plastic around you right now: a water bottle, a stapler, the soles of your sneakers, your hair clip, or the pen in your pocket.

Plastic products can be as small as a push pin tack, or as large as a plexi-glass window. Plastics can be molded, shaped, melted, colored, cut, cast, bent, ripped, and made to be flexible or stiff. It seems fairly practical that the word "plastic" takes its origin from the Greek words "plastikos" and "plastos", which mean "Capable of being shaped or molded". 

One of the first official plastic materials invented was demonstrated at the Great International Exhibit, London, in 1862. It was called "Parkesine", and was invented by Mr. Alexander Parkes. It's sole descriptive feature was that it could be bent and shaped when heated. Next up was celluloid. Invented in 1868, this was first used as a substitute for ivory in billiard balls. Later, it took off like crazy in the movie industry. That's right, the second plastic product to be invented, was movie film.

As they've been molded and shaped continuously, plastic products have in turn performed their own feats of malleability on society. Without plastic, the world would be a hugely different place. What would we do in a world without Ziploc bags or Saran Wrap? Seventy-five years ago, very few people would have been thinking about what to do with 100,000 empty plastic bottles. Now? It's foremost in the thoughts of everyday people. Probably the most useful feature of a true 'plastic' product is its ability to be broken down and re-used as something else. Unfortunately, because plastic can be combined with other materials, not all products made can be recycled. The question then becomes: What do we do with the rest?