I accomplished something tonight! It’s not quite finished and the table that I mention at the end is still in production, but basically I’ve written a brief history of plastics and started in on the thesis –> recycling.
Comments, critiques and questions welcome! Please remember that this is a first draft and is extremely rough. I literally copied what I had in Word and pasted it here, so if there’s grammatical errors and such, my bad!
(American chemistry citation) Plastics have existed, in one form or another, since 1862, when Alexander Parkes debuted Parkesine (a cellulose-based plastic) at the Great Exhibition in London. Although Parke’s business ultimately failed, it opened the doors to the idea of a substance that could be molded and retain its shape, was durable and could be used for a variety of applications. It was not until 1907 that Leo Baekeland was able to produce and patent the very first synthetic man-made plastic, which was appropriately named “Bakelite.” This substance, produced in the United States, had the ability to harden rapidly and retain the shape of whatever container it was placed in, which is what earned it so much popularity. The product was especially popular in the household as it could be used for electrical applications: the plastic was resistant to heat, light, moisture, cracking and discoloration.
Of course, once Bakelite was on the market, it opened the floodgates for many other inventive plastic polymers. Cellophane came next, developed in 1913 by Dr.Jacques Edwin Brandenberger and enjoyed enormous success; this was followed in 1933 by SaranTM (used in food packaging), invented by Ralph Wiley. The years between 1930 and 1950 were boom years for plastics invention and production and initially, most plastics were produced for applications in World War II. After the war was over, the plastics that had previously been used in airplanes and military equipment began appearing on grocery store shelves and in the home. Polyethylene is one plastic that, since its accidental creation in 1933 has remained the most manufactured and widely used plastic in the world.
Plastics have been around for over 100 years but unfortunately, recycling of any plastic products was relatively unheard of until the late 1970s and was not truly effective until the early 1990s. Therefore, it is important to understand that virtually every synthetic polymer ever produced still persists, in some form or another in the world. In response to the growing waste problem, a number of local initiatives (within the United States) were put into place. Oregon became the first state to pass a bottle bill in 1972, which put a deposit on bottles and cans that customers would get back when they recycled, thereby offering an incentives program. In 1976, the Federal and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (FRCRA) was passed, which, along with mandating that landfills be monitored more effectively, promoted conservation of energy and recycling (CaliEPA).
One major problem with the recycling of plastics that continues to persist to this very day is the wide variety of plastic products. Plastic is in virtually everything and it is not always well known what the specific types are: once this is known, answering the question of where to recycle said product can also be overwhelming to the consumer. When plastics were first mass-produced, there was not a way of immediately identifying what type of plastic was what. It was for this reason that the Society of the Plastics Industry created its resin identification code. The code allowed consumers to sort their plastic waste more efficiently and also aided processing plants in accepting more types of plastic and raised efficiency levels. Although the resin ID code is extremely helpful in understanding what the different plastics types are, it remains a frustrating task trying to figure out which one is recyclable according to one’s recycling center regulations. Table X (number later) gives a list of the seven major types of plastic, their applications and their current annual production in the US.