On Dec. 7 1909, exactly 109 years ago, Leo Baekeland patented the first thermosetting (irreversibly hardened) man-made plastic, earning himself the title of the “father of plastic.” Sorry to Alexander Parkes, the man who introduced the first man-made plastic in 1862.
This synthetic plastic could be used to make a “thousand and one articles” of anything according to Baekeland, and it pretty much has ever since.
During World War II, plastic production increased significantly with the use of various versions of plastic in things like guns, weapons, parachutes, ropes and shock absorbers. In the 1950’s, polyester became a commodity due to its adaptability, and today, it is now one of the most used polymers in the world. The 1960’s saw types of plastic being used in the Apollo-era space suits, to replace steel in racing tires and in bullet-proof vests.
In the 1970s, environmental concern regarding plastic rose significantly, and due to economic necessity, people started focusing on making bioplastics, plastics made out of renewable sources. Yet, a solid, sustainable option is still being researched and developed today.
Today, exactly 109 years after the father of plastic introduced the first synthetic plastic, the industry has grown into the third-largest industry in the United States and employs nearly 900,000 Americans.
What began as recyclable, bioplastic is now a booming synthetic plastic industry that is trying to return to its roots of a biodegradable and economically-friendly material.
There are certain bioplastics found in items that people use today, such as laundry detergent bottles, cutlery and even straws, but there has yet to be a bioplastic option introduced that can replace all forms of synthetic plastic.
Launched by World Wildlife Fund is the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, which encourages the responsible development of plant-based plastic. Companies that are members of this alliance include Coca Cola, Ford, Nestle, Lego, McDonald’s and Target. The city of Tulsa is making efforts to improve recycling habits.
“It’s good that more Tulsans are recycling, but the city has also seen an increase in items being put into the blue recycling carts that can not be recycled through the city. This leads to a high ‘contamination rate’ at the city’s recycling process center—and that costs the city and resident’s money,” according the CityofTulsa.org. “The contamination rate is now at 21.93 percent, and it needs to be at 15 percent or less.”
While Tulsa is making an effort to reduce the contamination rate and educate residents on sustainable living, some argue the recycling process needs to be more convenient to be effective.
“It’s hard for students who want to be sustainable to recycle. It needs to be easier to get plastic items to the recycle companies, and this means more bins in more convenient places,” said Laura Davis, member of the Students for Stewardship and Sustainability club at ORU.
Tulsa residents can find out more information about how to recycle locally by visiting the CityofTulsa.org.