Quantcast
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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Energy
Greenpeace fracking protest in London's Parliament Square. DAVID HOLT / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

5 Earthquakes Recorded in England Just Days After Fracking Restarts

A string of small earthquakes were reported the town of Blackpool just days after fracking operations restarted in England after a seven year hiatus, raising concerns that the controversial drilling process could eventually trigger bigger temblors.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) detected five quakes since Thursday near the contentious Preston New Road site operated by UK shale gas firm Cuadrilla Resources.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly / CC BY-SA 2.0

New Green Strategy: Change the Electorate, Not the Election

By Tara Lohan

How little do elected officials care about climate change? Look no further than a recent U.S. Senate hearing about the biggest threats facing the country, where lawmakers asked a single question about global warming during the entire three-hour event.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
The ongoing Taylor Energy oil spill, photographed on Sept. 2, 2012. LEAN Louisiana Environmental Action Network

The Largest U.S. Oil Spill You've Probably Never Heard of Is Still Leaking After 14 Years

Yet another reason to #KeepItInTheGround. A 14-year chronic oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico could surpass BP's Deepwater Horizon spill as the largest offshore disaster in U.S. history, the Washington Post reported.

The spill stems from a Taylor Energy-owned production platform located 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana that was toppled by an underwater mudslide caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old activist from Sweden, addressed a crowd at what campaigners say was Finland's largest ever climate demonstration on Saturday. Svante Thunberg / Twitter

Teen Climate Activist to Crowd of Thousands: 'We Can't Save the World by Playing by the Rules'

By Jessica Corbett

Addressing some 10,000 people in Helsinki on Saturday at what some campaigners are calling Finland's largest ever climate demonstration, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg urged marchers to fight for the major systemic changes that experts have said are necessary to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avert a looming climate catastrophe.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
As more studies affirm the health benefits of nature, doctors are writing it into their prescriptions. Michael H / Getty Images

Natural Medicine: More Doctors Prescribing Time Outdoors

Birdwatch for long-tailed ducks. Search for shells. Sketch some snowdrops.

These are some of the prescriptions you might receive if you go to a doctor in the Shetland Islands of Scotland and say that you are suffering from stress, heart disease, diabetes, mental health problems or other chronic conditions.

Keep reading... Show less
Oceans
Enipniastes eximia, aka "headless chicken monster." NOAA

'Headless Chicken Monster' to Help Antarctic Conservation Efforts

Enypniasties eximia—a deep-sea swimming sea cucumber scientists have affectionately called the "headless chicken monster"has been caught on camera for the first time in Antarctic waters thanks to new underwater camera technology developed by Australian researchers.

Footage of the finned sea creature will be used to aid important marine conservation efforts in the Southern Ocean.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Animal Collective performing at The Concord in Chicago on Feb. 2, 2016. swinfinfan / CC BY 2.0

Animal Collective’s 'Tangerine Reef': Myth, Mystery and Subtle Environmentalism

By David Colgan

In a way, you could consider coral reefs the rainforests of the oceans—dense, mysterious and full of life.

Covering less than two percent of the ocean floor, they are home to a quarter of all marine species. But unlike rainforests, a longtime conservation focus, corals have received relatively little attention. The alien-looking seascapes have captivated explorers, divers and others privileged enough to visit, but remained largely out of sight for most people.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Giant Petrel flying over the South Atlantic. Liam Quinn / CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s Giant Mice Vs. Rare Seabirds on This Remote South Atlantic Island

On a remote island in the South Atlantic, a evolutionary battle is playing out between giant mice and rare sea birds. So far, the mice are winning.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!