A Look into Plastics

By Pratik Bajracharya
Mar 11, 2022

Plastic, an all-familiar material, was accidentally invented in 1846 by German chemist Christian Schonbein. He discovered ‘cellulose nitrate’, the world’s first synthetic plastic by mixing nitrate and sulfuric acid with cellulose found in plants and trees. Since then, many scientists tried to work with natural polymers and cellulose derivatives.

Currently, plastics are derived from materials found in nature, such as natural gas, oil, coal, minerals, and plants. In early 1900s, another German scientist found natural and synthetic materials consisting of large molecules in form of chains, and ever since we define plastic as polymers of a long carbon chain.

There has been an abrupt increase in plastic production since World War 2. The world produces more than 380 million tons of plastic every year. More than half the total amount of plastic produced was brought to market after 2000. It is expected that plastic production will further increase to about 600 million tons in 2025.

Plastics are used in everyday packaging materials, building and construction, automotive, electronics, household utilities, agriculture, medical fields, and so on. This high consumption is due to its advantage, flexibility, and cost. About 40% of all plastics produced are thrown away within a month which either ends up in landfills or in the marine ecosystem.

While plastic disintegrates into small pieces and generates greenhouse gases in a landfill, it doesn’t degrade in the marine ecosystem, and the plastic either for a hundred thousand years or bioaccumulates in the food ecosystem. Ergo, think carefully before using plastics.

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