Invention of plastic | Inventors, types of plastic and how they are made


Let’s talk about the history of plastic. Plastic is used everywhere from spaceships and computers to bottles and body prostheses, which makes it one of the most remarkable of all man-made materials. What gives plastic its special quality is the shape of the molecules. It is made from long organic molecules known as many plastic polymers.

When plastic was invented?

In the middle of the 19th century, people knew that the cellulose (the woody substance in plants) could be converted into a fragile material called cellulose nitrate. In 1862, British chemist Alexander Parkes added camphor to it, producing hard but malleable plastic called Parkesine. In 1869, American inventor John Hyatt produced a similar material called celluloid, which was used in 1889 by Kodak to make photographic films. Today there are thousands of synthetic plastics, each with its own characteristics and uses. Many are still of hydrocarbon origin (oil and natural gas), but in the past few decades, carbon fiber and other materials have been added to produce super light and super durable plastic such as Kevlar and CNRP.

I thought I should make something really soft instead, that could be molded into different shapes.

Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland on the invention of bakelite.

Is it recyclable?

Plastic is widely used because it is hard and durable and cannot be decomposed by bacteria. Thus, once released into nature, it does not decompose for a very long time. The vast amounts of waste plastics—100 million tons are in the oceans—cause plastic pollution which is harming marine wildlife. It is very important to reduce the use of plastics and recycle as much as possible. Heat energy is required to reshape it; therefore, the plastic recycling rate is very low.

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The history of plastic begins in 1862. Let’s evaluate the timeline step by step: