Now that we have the plastic wall up, when the zombies attack, we'll recycle them!

Plastic is the bane of the environment. Sure, it makes our lives easier, and it reduces the cost of some products, but nature doesn't like it.

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And, the animals who live in nature don't like it. If they eat it, it can kill them. If they get stuck in it, it can kill them. If they collect a large pile of it and try to hide it from their parents, they'll get a scolding.

But, the fact that plastic isn't biodegradable, or is hard to recycle has nothing to do with todays post.

Today we're discussing the early days of plastics. Those halcyon days when plastics seemed like the answer to everything. It was moldable! It was cheap! It was....well....crap.

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Plastics hit the scene around 1850's. And the first plastics were horrible. If you washed a plastic bowl in hot water, it would curl up and start twisting from the heat. If you stored food in a bowl and put it in the refrigerator, the cold would crack it. Those nice plastic silverware organizers would melt on a hot day.

Early plastics were crap.

Developed as a cheap substitute for ivory. A New England billiard ball manufacturer was looking for a way to substitute something cheaper for the ivory he used, so he offered a $10,000 bounty to whomever could find a replacement.

In 1868, a man named John Hyatt took up the challenge. However, he didn't really do anything. What he did was buy the patent rights from an English professor of Natural Science who had developed a compound consisting of nitrocellulose and camphor. When mixed in the correct proportions, it created a hard but flexible, transparent materiel.

The inventor, Alexander Parkes, called it 'Parkesine'. However, he didn't have a clue as to what he should use his parkesine for. SO when John Hyatt came knocking, he was more than happy to sell the right to him.

In 1872, Hyatt trademarked the product that he called 'Celluloid'. He immediately started producing billiard balls and happily collected the bounty offered.

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But, he also realized that celluloid could be used for many more things than just billiard balls.

By 1890 celluloid was being used for men's collars, cuffs and shirtfronts. "It wipes clean!" was a popular selling phrase used to get women to buy them. And women had their own celluloid items. Their combs, hand mirrors and even some jewelry was made from it. Even kids had toys made from it.

And, as long as it stayed at room temperature, everything was fine. When it got hot or cold, celluloid kind of went to hell.

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It might have died off had it not been for George Eastman who used celluloid for photographic film, and Thomas Edison who used celluloid strips for the new fangled moving pictures.

The real savior of plastic, though, was something called 'Bakelite'.

A Belgian inventor named Leo Hendrik Baekeland felt that prospects for making huge amounts of cash were better in America, so in the early 1890's, he emigrated to New York. His first money maker was a photographic paper he sold to George Eastman that allowed pictures to be taken indoors.

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He didn't stop there, though. Rubber was used for many applications, but it would grow brittle and crack with age and use. He decided he would come up with a replacement.

In 1907, he did it. He combined chemicals and crated Bakelite. Bakelite is a thermoset plastic. That means once it's molded, it's hard as a rock and resistant to heat, acid and electricity.

Bakelite was used for everything from the handles to pots and pans, to the dials on radios, to the casing of the heads of electrical plugs. You can still find bakelite on items made up through the 1960's.

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Because of the science used to create celluloid and bakelite, scientists were able to create many other forms of plastics in relatively short order.

  • 1912 - Cellophane
  • 1927 - Acetate
  • 1928 - Vinyl
  • 1930 - Plexiglass
  • 1936 - Acrylic
  • 1937 - Melmac
  • 1938 - Styrene
  • 1938 - Formica
  • 1940 - Polyester
  • 1940 - Nylon

I'm sure you recognize the later plastics more than celluloid and bakelite. We use them all today.

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But, in the beginning of plastics, the environment wasn't considered. So we are left with a cheap product that will kill the planet.

Personally, neither I nor my sister have any kids, and won't have any kids, so I don't care. I have no one to leave the Earth to, so I'm going to use as much of it as I can. (not really....I just tell people that to piss them off...)

One of the main problems with plastics is, it's so cheap. We could reduce the amount of plastics used by millions of tons a year if we'd switch to glass packaging. But, the main obstacle to using glass is...us. The consumer. We demand cheap. And cheap is not glass. Cheap is plastic.

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So, blame yourself for the environment. I know that I'm blaming you. Because I don't want to blame myself. I'm taking the typical human attitude that, 'everything is someone else's fault.'.

So there you have it. The origin of the materiel that will end up killing the environment.