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History of plastic

Over the centuries of the human existence on Earth, people’s needs have steadily increased. In ancient times, a fireplace, own cave, a piece of leather as clothing and hunting for wild animals was enough to survive. However, increased appetite, the desire for comfort and the need for an easier life were an impulse for ongoing improvements.
The desire to tame and improve the surrounding nature, more or less successfully, still exists. Humans have always felt the urge to create something the nature couldn't give. They did that by recreating and combining acquired materials, creating various items like tools, weapons and clothing. However, this was only the beginning...
Around 1000 years B.C. ancient Mexicans were the first people that attempted to create material that was not found in natural environment. The Olmecs, which translates to 'rubber people', are considered pioneers in manufacturing of plastic. Processed India rubber with different levels of flexibility was used in the production of rubber soles, balls etc.
The modification of the India rubber turned out to be a great success when it comes to obtaining a material with innovative properties. In fact, even today these attributes are the biggest advantages of the broadly understood plastic: it is flexible, light, does not corrode, it can be easily shaped and coloured. Over time, it has also become relatively cheap to manufacture and process.

Common name of polymers
The term plastic comes from the Greek word 'plastikos' and the Latin word 'plasticus' that both mean 'to mould, form', which also indicates its most characteristic feature that can’t be found in any other natural material. Neither metal, glass, wood nor any building mortars, are in any way pliable, and even if they are, it’s only to a certain extent.
The correct chemical term for them is polymers. It’s derived from their molecular structure which consists of many small molecules, known as monomers.

Age of coal, steam and .... polymers!
The industrial revolution has also impacted the production of plastic. During that time there were extensive works to improve the quality of plastic and its availability.
In 1856 the British scientist Alexander Parkes invented the first thermoplastic – a celluloid based on nitrocellulose. It was used in the production of toys and table tennis balls.
In 1870 the Hyatt brothers improved the celluloid and simplified its production. Beside nitrocellulose and camphor they added alcohol, which significantly enhanced its final quality. It quickly replaced ivory which was commonly used in the production of everyday accessories. Ironically, the infamous plastic saved the population of elephants that were then endangered.
Following the above mentioned discoveries, other scientists worked on the improvement of the product. Hans von Pechmann, a German chemist, played a big role in the history of plastic by inventing polyethylene. In 1933 Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson worked on the production process of polyethylene, whereas Michael Perrin improved it and made it reproducible.
Thanks to these achievements, during World War II polyethylene became a material used on a mass scale in the production of: ropes, foils, pipes and other products intended for both military and civilian use.
Eugene Baumann was another scientist that had a great impact on the production of plastic. During 1920s he developed polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC. To this day, PVC is used in almost every branch of industry, starting from interior finishing, through packaging, hydraulics, electronics, ending with medicine.
Another milestone in the development of polymers was achieved by the British chemists James Tennant Dickson and John Rex Whinfield. In 1941 they patented the most famous polyester - PET. From the very beginning, polyester materials were dedicated to the textile industry. The new solution met with a great approval. To this day, they are used in the production of most fabrics and yarns.
In the late 1930s, while working on refrigerants for refrigerators, engineer Roy Plunkett accidentally discovered the highly popular teflon.

Next chapters of history
The work on plastic is still in progress. Research laboratories all over the world continue to work on the improvement of the material. The plastic is improved with various refinements, fillings, substances to change its original properties in order to acquire the best effects dedicated to particular branches of industry.
When talking about progress in plastic, one cannot forget about the composites, which have been probably the most studied and modified materials in the last century. The main feature of the composite is that it consists of several materials, which provides the effect of synergy - separately none of the materials would've achieved even the slightest part of what they create together. The simplest example of a composite is a fabric or metal embedded in polymers in order to obtain a reinforced material.
Composite materials are used in almost every branch of industry. Modern composites are innovative and expensive, and their implementation in production must be precisely formulated. Nevertheless, construction, petrochemical, military, shipyard, automotive, aircraft and spacecraft construction industries, as well as the production of sports and medical accessories, are the most common recipients of the composites.
An interesting application of composites is the production of endoprostheses, which replace the internal elements of, for example, joints or bones. Human body rejects the majority of implanted substances with the exception of titanium. However, this element is expensive and heavy, so in order to reduce these drawbacks, the scientists developed a technology for the production of the plastic prostheses coated only with a thin layer of titanium.
Therefore, taking into account the constantly growing amount of plastics, their derivatives, as well as the multitude of their applications, we can easily predict that we will not eradicate plastic from our everyday life in the nearest future.
Since the recycling is the best way to protect our planet from waste and the recycled plastic is not inferior to the virgin product, we strongly call for waste sorting!