How was plastic invented by mistake?

Who invented plastic

Nature does not destroy plastic, it only transforms it into particles that travel with rain, wind and snow. They have already reached virgin areas and the interior of animal organisms. Millions of fragments escape the filters of sewage treatment plants and go into the sea.

Universities and organizations have discovered that plastic pollution passes through our bodies: the WHO found particles in bottled and tap water and a doctoral student at the University of Alicante found that, as happens in Asia and elsewhere, among the crystals of salt ‘made in Spain’ that brightens up our meals there are also fragments of polyethylene terephthalate and polypropylene.

While transnational authorities such as the WHO and the EU call for urgent research into the effect of microplastics on health and the environment, part of the scientific community continues to study how the particles spread, a new but essential specialization for understanding plastic pollution. This is how this allied material in everyday life has become a disturbing microscopic and global threat.

Bakelite is toxic

Plastics are one of the most important and most widely used groups of resources and materials in industry. They are used in virtually all branches of industry, and the annual worldwide production of plastics amounts to more than 300 million tons. Popularly known as “plastics”, despite their many benefits, they also carry environmental risks. Therefore, as part of environmental efforts, plastics are segregated and recycled. To facilitate these processes, appropriate labels have been introduced to inform the consumer what the product is made of. Thanks to these labels, it is possible to consciously choose products that are safer for people and the environment. What do these symbols look like and what exactly do they mean? You can find out in this article.

The intensive development of plastics began in the middle of the 19th century. Celluloid is considered to be the first plastic invented. Although it was important for the industry at that time, it had some drawbacks: it was poorly resistant to external factors (light, chemicals). It was also flammable. One of the first plastics manufactured and applied on a large scale was Bakelite based on phenol-formaldehyde resin. It was invented in the early 20th century by a Belgian scientist living in the United States, Leo Hendrik Baekeland. Bakelite gained significant popularity due to its properties: the material is non-flammable and does not melt or dissolve. It is a poor conductor of heat and electricity. It was widely applied in most industries. It was used to produce, for example, telephones, ignition devices, dryers, radios and insulators in the electrotechnical industry. Since then, we have witnessed a rapid development of plastics. Many completely new materials have been invented and existing ones have been improved. As a result, plastics have become extremely popular materials, often replacing other “classic” resources such as metal and wood.

Leo baekeland plastic

The use of plastic in such a massive way as it occurs in our society has led to the implementation of actions known as the 3 Rs, which are not exclusive to this material, but are applied to plastic in a relatively easy way. Although they are well known, the 3 R’s of plastic are:

Yellow plastic containers are intended to collect all types of light packaging that have been used to preserve, protect or transport products. Some of the plastics that should be recycled by throwing them in these bins are:

In addition to this list, there are other wastes that also go into these plastic containers. For example bricks and metal containers, caps or toothpaste tubes. In short, materials that can be recovered and recycled.

There is a perception that in the yellow plastic containers go all objects that have been manufactured with plastic, although they cannot always be recycled, but have to be thrown in the waste container:

There is a relatively simple way to know whether a plastic can go into the appropriate container. It is becoming more and more common to find an icon that looks like a yellow container, indicating that it is a recyclable product.


Plastics are synthetic materials made of polymers, large molecules consisting of a very long chain of repeated units, which, hence the name, can be shaped by heating. Each plastic has a certain temperature at which it ceases to be hard and brittle and becomes soft and malleable. A distinction must be made between thermoplastics and thermo rigid materials. The former remain malleable until they melt and retain the shape they have been given; if they are reheated, they can be reshaped by tensile forces. This happens because of the nature of the forces that hold their polymer chains together in a solid, with sufficient heat they can slide over each other. The shape of thermosetting materials, on the other hand, becomes unalterable above a certain temperature, usually high; the reason for this is the creation of cross-links, bridges of atoms that bind the polymer chains together and prevent the material from softening again when reheated. Cross-linked materials do not melt or dissolve, although they can absorb solvent; when they have absorbed too much, they become gels.