Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Plastics: The History of an Ecological Crisis

Popular
Plastics: The History of an Ecological Crisis

The Earth Day Network has announced that this year's Earth Day, on Sunday, April 22, will focus on ending plastic pollution by Earth Day 2020, the 50th anniversary of the world's first Earth Day in 1970, which led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts.


Now, the Earth Day Network seeks to remain true to its legacy by initiating another major clean-up job. As the Earth Day Network points out in its petition to end plastic pollution, 300 million tons of plastic are sold each year, and 90 percent of that is thrown away, ending up in landfills, in the oceans and in our bodies.

In honor of this worthy goal, EcoWatch has put together a brief history of the problem, and of the growing effort to combat it.

Plastic Pollution: A History

1862: Alexander Parkes demonstrates the first man-made plastic at the Great International Exhibition in London. Parkesine, as he dubbed it, was made from cellulose.

1907: Leo Baekeland develops Bakelite, the first synthetic, fossil-fuel based plastic made from phenol (a coal waste-product) and formaldehyde.

A telephone made from Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic. Tangerineduel

1946: The first National Plastics Exhibition opens in New York City to showcase all the new consumer uses for the plastics developed to aid in World War II. During the war, plastic production had increased nearly four-fold.

Early 1970s: Reports published in Science about the prevalence of plastic pellets in the North Atlantic lead to more research into the prevalence of plastic on the seafloor and its impact on marine animals.

1979: Plastic grocery bags are introduced in the U.S.

1980: Woodbury, New Jersey becomes the first U.S. city to adopt a curbside recycling program following litter awareness-campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s.

A 1970s recycling poster.Library of Congress

1990s: Widespread use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics begins.

Microbeads.


1997: Charles Moore discovers the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world's largest collection of floating garbage, when sailing home to Los Angeles.

2002: Bangladesh becomes the first country to ban plastic bags after discovering they blocked drains during a severe flood.

2007: San Francisco becomes the first U.S. city to institute a plastic bag ban.

2008: A government study confirms that Bisphenol A, a chemical used to manufacture hard plastic bottles and the lining of baby-formula cans, may increase risks of early puberty, breast cancer, prostate issues and behavioral problems.

2014: The Netherlands becomes the first country to ban microbeads in cosmetics.

2017: The BBC's Blue Planet II increases global concern about ocean plastics with striking footage of how they impact ocean animals.

An albatross corpse filled with plastic. Chris Jordan / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / CC BY 2.0

2018: The Earth Day Network focuses Earth Day on ending plastic pollution by 2020.

An Edith's Checkerspot butterfly in Los Padres National Forest in Southern California. Patricia Marroquin / Moment / Getty Images

Butterflies across the U.S. West are disappearing, and now researchers say the climate crisis is largely to blame.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A wildfire burns in the Hollywood hills on July 19, 2016 in Hollywood, California. AaronP / Bauer-Griffin / GC Images

California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Wisdom is seen with her chick in Feb. 2021 at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Jon Brack / Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge / Flickr / CC 2.0

Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.

Read More Show Less
Wind turbines in Norway. piola66 / E+ / Getty Images

By Hui Hu

Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.

Read More Show Less
Jaffa Port in Israel. theDOCK innovated the Israeli maritime space and kickstarted a boom in new technologies. Pixabay

While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.

Read More Show Less