Thinking Citizen Blog — The Other Side of Plastic — the Miracle of It

John Muresianu
4 min readMay 25

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Thinking Citizen Blog — Wednesday is Climate Change, the Environment, and Sustainability Day

Today’s Topic: The Other Side of Plastic — the Miracle of It

Last week, the dark side of plastic. This week the bright side. “Plastics made possible the development of computer, cell phones, and most of the lifesaving advances of modern medicine.” Today, three chapters in the advance of the plastics industry. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE FIRST PLASTIC — A SUBSTITUTE FOR IVORY IN MAKING BILLIARD BALLS AND THE PROTECTOR OF THE ELEPHANT AND THE TORTOISE

1. “The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt (a printer), who was inspired by a New York firm’s offer of $10,000 for anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory.”

2. The growing popularity of billiards had put a strain on the supply of natural ivory, obtained through the slaughter of wild elephants.”

3. “By treating cellulose, derived from cotton fiber, with camphor, Hyatt discovered a plastic that could be crafted into a variety of shapes and made to imitate natural substances like tortoiseshell, horn, linen, and ivory.”

NB: “This discovery was revolutionary. For the first time human manufacturing was not constrained by the limits of nature. Nature only supplied so much wood, metal, stone, bone, tusk, and horn. But now humans could create new materials. This development helped not only people but also the environment. Advertisements praised celluloid as the savior of the elephant and the tortoise. Plastics could protect the natural world from the destructive forces of human need.” “The creation of new materials also helped free people from the social and economic constraints imposed by the scarcity of natural resources. Inexpensive celluloid made material wealth more widespread and obtainable. And the plastics revolution was only getting started.”

LEO BAEKELAND AND BAKELITE — FIRST TRULY SYNTHETIC PLASTIC (below a Bakelite telephone)

1. “In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature.”

2. “Baekeland had been searching for a synthetic substitute for shellac, a natural electrical insulator, to meet the needs of the rapidly electrifying United States.”

3. “Bakelite was not only a good insulator; it was also durable, heat resistant, and, unlike celluloid, ideally suited for mechanical mass production.”

NB: “Marketed as “the material of a thousand uses,” Bakelite could be shaped or molded into almost anything, providing endless possibilities.”

THE SECOND WORLD WAR GAVE A HUGE BOOST TO THE DEMAND FOR SYNTHETIC PRODUCTS (below, women working in plastics factory during the war)

1. “The need to preserve scarce natural resources made the production of synthetic alternatives a priority. Plastics provided those substitutes.”

2. “Nylon, invented by Wallace Carothers in 1935 as a synthetic silk, was used during the war for parachutes, ropes, body armor, helmet liners, and more.”

3. “Plexiglas provided an alternative to glass for aircraft windows.”

NB: “A Time magazine article noted that because of the war, “plastics have been turned to new uses and the adaptability of plastics demonstrated all over again.” During World War II plastic production in the United States increased by 300%.”

PS: Off to NYC later this morning. Posting will resume next Monday. Have a wonderful weekend!

History and Future of Plastics

John Wesley Hyatt — Wikipedia

Leo Baekeland — Wikipedia

Bakelite — Wikipedia

By Design: World War II, plastics, and NPE

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/tupperware-plastics/

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

My spin — then periodically review, re-rank, and exchange your list with those you love. I call this the “Orion Exchange” because seven is about as many as any human can digest at a time. Game?

A LINK TO THE LAST FOUR YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED BY THEME:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive

ATTACHMENT BELOW -

#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, (11/17/20)

YOUR TURN

Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to climate change or the environment. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to climate change that the rest of us may have missed. Your favorite chart or table perhaps…

This is your chance to make some one’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.