The Study of Plastics: The History, Production, and Contribution to Pollution

July 19, 2023
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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Review of Literature
  3. Conclusion


The history of plastics, as discussed in this paper, traces back to the mid-1800s when humans began utilizing natural substances with plastic-like properties, such as chewing gum. Subsequently, through chemical modifications of naturally occurring materials, innovations like rubber emerged. Alexander Parkes is credited with inventing the first plastic known as celluloid, which he named Parkesine, following extensive laboratory experiments and projects.

Over time, other pioneering scientists like Leo Baekeland focused on developing more complex plastic products, resulting in the creation of Bakelite. This achievement marked a significant milestone, as Bakelite became the first large-scale synthetic plastic.

The concept of polymerization, leading to the production of the ubiquitous Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), was first realized between 1838 and 1872. Since then, humanity's interest in plastic usage has grown exponentially, continuing to the present day.

Review of Literature

The paper by Derrick, Jose GB, titled "The Pollution of the Marine Environment by Plastic Debris: A Review," highlights the detrimental impact of non-biodegradable plastic on marine life and ecosystems. Plastics ingested by marine animals can obstruct their digestive tracts, ultimately leading to fatal consequences. Moreover, these defenseless creatures may become ensnared in plastic debris, compromising their ability to feed, escape from predators, and even suffer injuries from attached plastic particles. The situation is particularly dire in the North Pacific Ocean, where plastic pollution has significantly diminished environmental safety, resulting in substantial economic losses for the tourism and fisheries sectors, as expounded in the paper. The article serves as a crucial source of awareness and knowledge on the far-reaching effects of plastic pollution on marine environments.

According to the National Geographic article "Why the North Pacific Ocean Is the Most Polluted Ocean," the sheer size of the Pacific Ocean, spanning across multiple continents, contributes to its designation as the most polluted sea. The presence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, harboring approximately 3.5 million tons of accumulated trash, underscores the severity of the problem, with plastic being one of the most persistent materials.

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The paper by Law, Kara Lavender et al., titled "Plastic Accumulation in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre," emphasizes that plastic is non-biodegradable and often carelessly discarded into the ocean by human activity.

Approximately 80 percent of this pollution originates from land-based plastic usage. Moreover, around one-fifth of the plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean results from waste or cargo disposal by ships at sea. The paper further elucidates the reasons behind the North Pacific Ocean's staggering pollution levels.

The research conducted by Cahalane, Michael, and Robert H. Demling, in "Early Respiratory Abnormalities from Smoke Inhalation," strongly advocates against burning plastic and instead advocates for recycling as a safer alternative. Burning plastic releases harmful gases like carbon monoxide and dioxin, which can have deadly consequences upon inhalation or contact with their fumes. Additionally, Furan, a by-product of burning plastic, is linked to cancer and respiratory diseases. The emission of greenhouse gases from burning plastic also contributes to global warming, posing a grave threat to the planet.

In their paper "Chemical and Biological Characterization of Products of Incomplete Combustion from the Simulated Field Burning of Agricultural Plastic," Linak, William P., et al., emphasize that burning plastic results in various forms of pollution. Air pollution is the most prominent, affecting not only those directly involved in burning but also neighboring communities. Soil contamination occurs when ashes from burned plastic infiltrate the ground, causing severe soil issues. Burning plastic further contributes to water pollution, affecting both terrestrial and marine life. These detrimental effects of burning plastic underscore the urgency of reducing its usage.

Rayne, Sierra, in her paper "The Need for Reducing Plastic Shopping Bag Use and Disposal in Africa," stresses the significance of recycling used plastics as an efficient means of reducing pollution. Additionally, implementing government policies to ban the use of plastic bags as packaging materials, as successfully done in countries like Rwanda, can significantly curb plastic production.

The main avenues for reducing plastic usage revolve around self-policing. By setting individual policies against using plastic bags and actively recycling existing ones, we can collectively make a substantial impact on plastic reduction.

Eriksen, Marcus, et al.'s paper titled "Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More Than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing Over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea" underscores the need to recycle existing plastic to mitigate its detrimental effects on the environment. The paper highlights that plastics constitute a significant proportion of ocean pollutants, emphasizing the urgency to address this pressing issue for the sake of our planet.


In conclusion, while plastics have been widely used throughout history, their harmful impact on the environment and ecosystems cannot be ignored. To safeguard our planet and preserve marine life, recycling existing plastics and reducing further production are paramount. By collectively taking responsibility for our plastic usage, we can pave the way for a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

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