We really want to show our commitment to the fight against plastic and educate our readers. So let's start the journey through the history of plastics by first looking at its definition and some of the basics around it.
The term "plastic" is derived from the Greek word "plastikos", which means fit for molding. This refers to the malleability or plasticity of the material during manufacturing, which allows it to be cast, pressed or extruded into a variety of shapes - such as films, fibers, plates, tubes, bottles. , boxes and much more.
Plastics are the term commonly used to describe a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic polymers. When a polymer is a macromolecule made up of repeating subunits and in the case of organic compounds, this repeating unit mainly comprises carbon and hydrogen.
Today, around 99% of the plastic produced is obtained from petroleum, natural gas and coal - fossil fuels. The production of plastic is a 4-step process that begins with the extraction of the raw material, fossil fuel in this case, which is then refined to obtain different by-products. The most widely used by-products for plastic production are methane, ethane, propane, butane and Nafta.
The next step is polymerization in which the monomers are linked in long chains (polymers). At the end of this step, you will obtain plastic resin pellets which will then be processed to obtain the desired material. In this phase, the polymer resins are mixed with a mixture of additives. Additives are important because each of them is used to give the plastic optimal targeted properties such as toughness, flexibility, elasticity, color; or to make them safer and more hygienic for particular applications and use.
When did plastic become a problem?
Believe it or not, humans have been using plastics for a very long time.
However, the industry didn't really get off the ground until WWII, when the production of plastic increased steadily due to its use in military vehicles and radar isolation. Petrochemical companies built factories to turn crude oil into plastic by loading trucks, with the predictable result that by the end of the war in 1945 the industry faced a horrific glut. This is where the modern plastics industry was born.
From the plastic rise to the plastic tide.
The versatility of the material is what made it widely used in many industries, from automotive to packaging and textiles. Since 1950, when the annual production of plastic was around 1.5 million tonnes, the industry has grown disproportionately to reach an annual output of over 350 million tonnes.
The glorious rise and growth in the use of plastic over the past 70 years has now become a global threat to the environment that will no doubt be addressed by whoever created it. The magical material that made products cheaper and more accessible, food last longer and easier to move, has also fueled a single-use culture in which the actual 'working time' of this plastic product is between seconds and minutes. This is what happens, for example, with plastic packaging; which in 2015 generated 141 million tonnes of waste (out of 146 million tonnes) and which represents 39% of all plastic production and around 50% of plastic waste.
The reach of plastic simply has no limits. The same goes for its negative effects. For several reasons, such as the mismanagement of plastic waste around the world and the direct discharge into the environment - known as trash - plastic can be found almost everywhere today. What's more, every year about 8 million tonnes of plastic leaks into our oceans, plastic that gets where humans don't. We have estimated that there are now around 270 million tonnes of plastic in our oceans, with 5 trillion pieces of plastic on the surface and a total of 51 trillion microplastics (plastic pieces smaller than 5 mm).
This plastic tide is recognized as one of the greatest threats our oceans face for many reasons. Plastic pollution can kill marine mammals directly by becoming entangled in objects such as fishing gear, but also by ingestion, mistaking them for food.
Microplastics had been found in the organs of more than 114 aquatic species, including some species found only in the deepest ocean trenches. In addition, not only are plastics not digestible, but they have also been shown to concentrate pollutants up to a million times their level in the surrounding seawater, which are therefore delivered to the species that contain them. ingest.