February 15, 2022
Plastic in all its various forms has been omnipresent in our lives for many decades, so much so that we sometimes have the false impression that it has always been part of human habits. However, if we go back to its origins, we can realize that this synthetic material is actually very recent, and it is astonishing to see the extent of its negative impact on the environment versus the length of its existence.
How did a material like plastic, invented to simplify our lives, become one of the greatest enemies of nature? How, in such a short amount of time, has it managed to become indispensable and to make us forget all the alternatives still in use as recently as the last century? This is what we will discover in this first capsule of our series "The plastic pollution crisis".
Although the history of plastic can be traced back to Antiquity, it was not until the 19th century that the use of this synthetic material was developed. Before synthetic rubber, there was natural rubber, and it was Charles Goodyear who invented the vulcanization process that allowed the creation of artificial rubber from sulfur in 1839. In the following decades, parkesin (from cellulose), celluloid (first used to make table tennis balls) and viscose were developed.
During World War II, the need for raw materials increased tenfold, leading to the creation of Formica, which was very fashionable in kitchens at the time due to its resistance to chemicals, heat, fire and light, making it a durable material. During the same period, silicones were popularized through their use in the electrical, aeronautical and biomedical industries. Several other alternatives to natural rubber were developed due to the shortage caused by two successive wars.
In the 1950's, the infrastructures used to produce plastic to meet the needs of World War II were transformed into consumer goods factories, which meant that everyday items were quickly replaced by disposable plastic alternatives that were less expensive to produce.
Americans were coming out of a long period of frugality and privation and were using their newfound economic power to treat themselves to the new luxury of disposable plastic goods! The growing marketing industry had a part to play in this, of course, and Western households were influenced to adopt a "disposable" consumerist lifestyle.
From decade to decade, single-use plastic and overpackaging have grown in popularity, saturating landfills and polluting the oceans and the environment. From food bags to disposable water and beverage bottles to plastic packaging for personal care products and cosmetics, plastic is gaining popularity despite the zero and low waste movements that have emerged in recent years. Synthetic materials that are difficult to recycle have also seen a resurgence with the pandemic crisis and the need for single-use masks, visors, goggles and gloves.
Even with the best of intentions, it is exceedingly difficult as a consumer to get rid of disposable materials and single-use products altogether. While we can try our best to reduce our plastic consumption with tips and tricks and some practical alternatives, we believe it is the duty of companies and governments to make this task easier... and it starts with us at ATTITUDE!
Our overall approach to sustainability is to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Reforest to help protect the planet.
Stay tuned for the next two installments of our series about plastic pollution, where we will discuss the issues surrounding single-use plastics in the 21st century and possible solutions to the plastic crisis. To make sure you don't miss out on any of these capsules, sign up for our newsletter!
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Written by Team ATTITUDE