Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Plastics: The History of an Ecological Crisis

Popular

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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Moroccan patients who recovered from the novel coronavirus disease celebrate with medical staff as they leave the hospital in Sale, Morocco, on April 3, 2020. AFP / Getty Images

By Tom Duszynski

The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.

In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.

Read More Show Less
Reef scene with crinoid and fish in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Reinhard Dirscherl / ullstein bild / Getty Images

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A daughter touches her father's head while saying goodbye as medics prepare to transport him to Stamford Hospital on April 02, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. He had multiple COVID-19 symptoms. John Moore / Getty Images

Across the country, the novel coronavirus is severely affecting black people at much higher rates than whites, according to data released by several states, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Four rolls of sourdough bread are arranged on a surface. Photo by Laura Chase de Formigny and food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post / Getty Images

By Zulfikar Abbany

Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A coral reef in Egypt's Red Sea. Tropical ocean ecosystems could see sudden biodiversity losses this decade if emissions are not reduced. Georgette Douwma / Stone / Getty Images

The biodiversity loss caused by the climate crisis will be sudden and swift, and could begin before 2030.

Read More Show Less