Plastic in a Nutshell Part 1: The History and Pros & Cons of Plastic

Plastic in a Nutshell Part 1: The History and Pros & Cons of Plastic

“Plastic, plastic, plastic!” It seems to be the topic of the century and for good reason. For decades plastic has dominated much of humanity to the point where we are now litterally (see what I did there?) picking up after ourselves.

It’s no secret that in the year 2019 sustainability is the new black and everyone from individuals to small businesses and even big corporations are pushing for an eco friendly lifestyle. Yay! Here at Gold Scout we take great pride in making The LUX Picnic Rug out of sustainable materials for our conscious consumer who favours quality without sacrificing style. But, with the constant chatter about “plastic” how informed are we about its origins, advantages and disadvantages?

As a huge advocate for sustainable living I truly feel it’s important for everyone to understand plastic - simply put - in a nutshell! This is why I have created a three part blog series to get to the bottom of plastic. Think of it as a journey from where plastic all began to its evolution over time, the good, the bad, the happy, and the sad (you get the idea!) Hopefully, after reading Plastic in a Nutshell you will have a greater insight into how it effects our planet and how you can learn to make it your friend, not your foe.

A Brief History Of Plastic

Did you know the word plastic derives from the Greek word Plastikos meaning being “capable of being shaped or moulded”? Thanks Google!

Early plastics were actually formulated from bio-derived products like eggs and in 1600 BC the Mesoamericans would utilise this natural rubber for sporting equipment like balls and figurines. Fast-forward to 1856 when the first man-made plastic called Parkesine was patented by Alexander Parkes in England. Parkesine consisted of a combination of cellulose and nitric acid and was a game changer because simply by adding some pigments it looked exactly like ivory, meaning (one would hope) that less elephants were hunted for their tusks. 

Lets move on to the early 1900s when a Belgian chemist created Bakelite – the first fully synthetic plastic made out of phenol and formaldehyde – what a healthy concoction (insert some epic sarcasm right here!)

Stay with me people because this is where it gets juicy…we move onto WW2 when a mass production of new forms of plastic took place. The kinds of plastic that many of us are probably familiar with…drum roll please…polystyrene! In fact, this type of plastic was first created in 1872 but didn’t hit the shelves till the 1920s with various new forms of polystyrene surfacing during war times. It was the 1950s that marked the beginning of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This was basically the beginning of plastic cups, bottles, packaging, building materials and all the other nasties that in 2019 we are cleaning up from our beaches, parks, streets and harbours.

But lets take a deep breath…that was a VERY brief history of plastic but still a significant amount of info. It’s so important to understand where we have come from to know where we are going, right?  

Now lets focus on the pros and cons of plastic. Believe it or not, there ARE BENEFITS, and the great thing is that the sooner we can recognise this, the sooner we can build a healthy relationship between mother earth and plastic and move the planet forward one sustainable lifestyle at a time.

Cons of Plastic

  • Harmful to the Environment: Ok, so this is no secret. Because plastic is so durable, it can survive hundreds of years. This means that plastic waste has basically been saturating our planet by clogging our waterways and inundating our forests, marine life and other natural habitats since its very beginnings.
  • Chemicals: Aside from the environmental risks, did you know that plastic contains the additives “PBA” and “Phthalates” that can permanently harm our metabolism by messing with our natural hormone levels causing lower testosterone levels in men and premature puberty in girls?
  • Choking Hazard: When it comes to children, pets, even adults, plastic can be a serious choking risk. With so many toys, household goods and trinkets made out of plastic, governments have implemented clear warning labels on hazardous plastic products. However, we still have to be on alert to ensure that no accidents happen.

Pros of Plastic

  • Medical Marvel: Plastic can be lifesaving! From plastic heart valves to syringes used to administer medications. Many surgical instruments consist of some form of plastic. Artificial limbs, treatments for Parkinson’s disease, even artificial blood compounds are all being developed within the medical industry by plastic.
  • Style By Plastic: Take a good look at your wardrobe, if you have clothes made out of polyester, nylon, or spandex then you are wearing plastic! If your clothing consists of blended fabrics (i.e. cotton and polyester) then this can make for stronger fibres increasing the durability of your favourite garments.

Fun Fact: Did you know the Gold Scout LUX Picnic Rug is made out of 110 recycled PET plastic water bottles helping to reduce our landfill?

  • Communication: If you are a slave to either your cell phone, laptop, Ipad, pc (who isn’t?!) then you can be certain these sometimes tiresome, yet super convenient devices wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for plastic! In a way plastic has made the world much more accessible and allows us to communicate with loved ones and pursue our dreams globally.

As we wrap up the first part of Plastic in a Nutshell… I will leave you with this thought…

“If we all spent a little more time outdoors appreciating our natural world, we’d surely have a happier and healthier community and maybe a cleaner one too.”

Kate X

Stay tuned for the second part of Plastic in a Nutshell where we delve into how plastic is used in modern society and its environmental effects.


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