The Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age have all been and gone, leaving their stamp on human history. Lasting anywhere from 2.5 million years to around 800 years, ‘Ages’ remind future generations of a distinct period of history and can provide insight into the inventions, mentality and social behaviour within that era.
This begs the question what will our ‘Age’ be remembered as in years to come?
It goes without saying that the world has had a plastic obsession for many decades now. Could this time go on to be remembered as the Plastic Age? Since synthetic plastic was only invented in 1907, it is likely too early to say for sure. Since its invention, plastic has had a huge impact on life as we know it, for good and for bad.
The world is now waking up to the extremely harmful side of plastic. More and more people are starting to take action, fighting to reduce the detrimental effect plastic has on our environment. Could these positive efforts be enough to drive us to an ‘Eco-friendly Age’, rather than a ‘Plastic Age’?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PLASTIC
According to ‘all-recycling-facts’, eco-friendly products are “products that do not harm the environment whether in their production, use or disposal”.
The first truly synthetic plastic, known as Bakelite, was invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. As soon as the 1930s, wide variations of plastic were on the market and people were starting to go mad for it.
By the Second World War parachutes were made from nylon, hand grenades were encased in Bakelite and fuselages/wings of aircraft were manufactured from Perspex. Plastic had made its mark and colonised our existence – without it “we would not have film and we wouldn’t have been able to have recorded sound” – Susan Lambert.
Today, plastic is one of the most produced man-made materials by the human race. An astonishing 300 million tonnes of it is made every year with around 150 million tonnes of it being used for single-use purposes only.
Plastic waste, especially non-recycled single-use plastics, have a devastating effect on the environment, with millions of animals ending up injured or dead every year due to plastic ingestion or entanglement. I wonder if the early manufacturers of plastic expected it to take this course.
WHY ARE WE SO OBSESSED?
Let’s face it people, the reason plastic is so engrained into our culture is because, unfortunately, it is a very popular materials amongst manufactures.
- Durable – it can be dropped without breaking
- Chemical resistant – this making some plastics able to be food safe
- Easy to form into shape – great for making complex products that have intricate shapes
- Corrosion resistant – lasts for a long time
+ most importantly… it is cheap…
What manufactures often fail to consider, however, is that nature has extreme difficulty in breaking plastic down. For instance, an everyday single-use plastic bag can take up to 1000 years to ‘decompose’.
Consequently, non-recycled plastic waste heads to landfill and, if it reaches the oceans, can have devastating consequences. In the ocean, plastic releases tiny micro-plastics which harm even the smallest of wildlife. For example, Prochlorococcus, a bacteria found in the sea which is responsible for providing up to 10% of the world’s oxygen, has been found to have micro-plastics within its cell walls!
Humanities’ obsession with single-use plastic needs to come to an end and we need to shift our focus to more eco-friendly means.
BECOMING THE 'ECO-FRIENDLY AGE'
Thankfully, a new ‘eco-friendly’ wave seems to be emerging.
Some businesses, individuals and organisations are now leading the way in trying to fix the plastic problem and building an ‘Eco-Friendly Age’.
Here are some great examples:
- Beach Cleanups
Beach clean ups make a real difference and are increasingly occurring in organised group settings. A simple way to get involved yourself, however, is just to pick up plastic waste next time you’re on a walk. It only takes 2 minutes!
- Eco-Friendly Projects
- e.g. The Ocean Clean up (cleaning the seas/rivers)
This fantastic project set aims “to clean-up 90% of the ocean plastic pollution by 2040”. Ocean Cleanup actually use the plastic that they remove from the oceans to create products that are made up of ‘verified ocean plastic’. They also clean plastic from rivers. Their latest invention can remove around 50 tonnes of plastic from rivers each day!
- Zero Waste Companies
Zero waste companies are cropping up all over, in a plight to raise awareness and offer alternative products to plastics. Using reusable products makes a big difference and you can be sure that your reusable bag won’t end up being ingested by a turtle and your reusable drinking straw won’t get stuck up its nose.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY: Building towards the 'eco-friendly' age
Refuse: SAY 'NO'
Starting the journey to reducing your plastic footprint doesn’t have to cost any money at all. By simply saying ‘no’ we can reduce the amount of plastic waste that we consume.
Imagine it: if you said no to every plastic bag you were offered in the supermarket, every single-use plastic straw in the bar, every piece of chewing gum offered by a friend (that’s right, most chewing gums contain plastic) think of the effect that would have!
Considering over 1 million plastic bags end up in the trash every minute saying no to plastic would have a dramatic effect if we all did it.
Start today and help make a difference for our future.
Despite the ‘doom and gloom’ we all read about plastic, there are individuals, projects and companies making a real difference. We urge you not to get disheartened by the effects of plastic, but rather to concentrate on what you can do to make a difference and to influence those around you.
It is people that set us down the path towards a ‘Plastic Age’ and it is people that will change that and ensure we are remembered as the ‘Eco-friendly Age’.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?...
WiseSip is an eco-friendly brand based in the UK (near Newcastle) that are trying to make a difference in the world!
My name is Sam, I am the founder and product designer here at WiseSip.
I have loved design for as long as I can remember and studied it all the way through my education.
I believe that we are all here to make a positive difference both to ourselves and to the people/world around us! I wanted to put my engineering knowledge to good use and tackle a real-world problem that seems to be getting worse and worse.