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  • Aaryan Doshi

Plastic Series - The Past, Present and Future

Plastic Series - The Past, Present and Future - image: adobe firefly

Plastic today is seen as one of the major sources of pollution and causes environmental harm, especially to flora and fauna. Ironically, its inception into society was a cause for environmental celebration. John Hyatt introduced plastic into society in 1869 as an alternative to tortoiseshell and ivory. Thus, it was seen as a savior of the elephant and the tortoise.

Why did we choose plastic? Plastic's popularity is rooted in its convenience - such as not having to clean utensils thanks to single-use plastic cups and plates, cheaper than aluminum and steel, and more durable and sturdier than paper. Given its pervasiveness and how deeply plastic is rooted in our daily fabric, completely eliminating plastic will not be easy. Despite regulations, fees for using plastic bags, and awareness of the harm caused by plastic, it has proven difficult to make plastic disappear from our daily lives. Milk containers, food bags, coffee cups, detergents, and soap dishes are all packaged in plastic. Our candies are wrapped in plastic, too.

Candies, though, remind me of an experience when I visited this jelly belly candy store as a little kid. There were these big containers from where we could refill our candy bottles. What would such a model do to our plastic consumption if we used refillable containers for our soap, detergents, snacks, and even milk? So we would walk into a Target, Costco, or a Walmart with refillable containers instead of walking out with plastic bags. Or we bring back the days of the milkman and extend this model to the fresh foods grocer. Instead of shipping food and produce in plastic packages, the grocer would come to our house with fresh food to refill our containers. We would drink coffee from refillable cups across all cafes instead of using a single-use cup. 

We can also seek sustainable materials found in nature that could be used as more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic. One example of such a material is bamboo, which can be used to make a wide variety of eco-friendly products like cutlery, tissues, stationery, or even serving trays. Bamboo is also a renewable resource. In contrast to forests of trees, bamboo groves can rejuvenate in as little as three to five years. Another example would be coconuts. The overwhelming majority of coconut is either incinerated or thrown away in landfills as waste. However, it can be used as a plastic replacement in combs, bowls, cups, and baskets without negatively impacting the environment. In the packaging industry, we can turn to seaweed to generate an alternative biodegradable packaging. Lastly, we can explore bioplastics manufactured from renewable sources such as plants, starches, and sugar.

Collectively, these measures can play an essential part in reducing the amount of plastic pollution in the environment. But these steps also require a massive reset and societal mindset shift. Just as plastic adoption was a lifestyle choice, plastic abdication too will be a lifestyle choice.


History and Future of Plastics | Science History Institute. (2024, January 3). Science History Institute.


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