A Brief History of Plastics

Plastics were developed in the late 19th century and are still in great use today. Originally, they were made from coal, but this resource was depleted before WWI. As technology advanced, plastics began to be derived from petroleum, but until WWII, they still relied heavily on coal. The second world war caused the demand for synthetics to increase dramatically, and coal suppliers were unable to meet the rising demand. In response, the federal government provided subsidies to companies building petroleum-derived benzene plants. These new resources fueled the plastics revolution, but the 1970s saw the first signs of plastic debris in the ocean.

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The early developers of plastics sought to produce materials with specific properties to replace natural resources. Natural resources are limited, and utilizing synthetic materials was seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative. Nevertheless, the first successful mass-produced plastic was produced in 1907. The purpose of this material was to produce electrical wiring. As the demand for plastics grew, new types were created. This led to the creation of polymers with various properties, such as insulators and heat-resistant materials. For more information on PTFE Coating for example, go to a site like https://www.poeton.co.uk/standard-treatments/electroless-nickel-plating/

The invention of cellophane in 1908 resulted in the first waterproof table cloth, used to repel liquids from textiles rather than be absorbed by them. DuPont eventually developed a material that would keep its materials moisture resistant. A new material called polyvinyl chloride was introduced to replace natural rubber. It soon proved to be the most versatile plastic. It is now commonly used in IV tubing and blood bags, and even in building products.

Plastics were first created for practical purposes and to preserve natural resources. In 1846, Charles Schonbein accidentally discovered nitrocellulose and a substance called Parkesine, one of the earliest man-made thermoplastics. Until today, this material is still used in eyeglass frames and camera film. However, its usage in these products has increased dramatically. These two materials were responsible for the growth of the plastic industry.


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In 1869, Bakelite became the first fully synthetic plastic. It had no natural molecules. As a result, Bakelite was durable, heat resistant, and suited for mass mechanical production. Its popularity led to the development of many new forms of plastics. In fact, there are many types of plastics in use today. A brief history of plastics helps understand the role of this material in society.

The development of plastics began with the discovery of the first fully synthetic polymer, Bakelite. Then, scientists began to use natural products as their models and experimented with new materials.

Plastics are an essential for everyday life and scientists continue to work on finding safer and more environmentally friendly varieties, such as bioplastics. This will help to cut down on unnecessary plastic waste. The use of plastic has transformed the world, making products cheaper, faster and more accessible while lasting far longer than natural alternatives.


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