We love the stuff. Modern society depends of plastics






UNDER THE KITCHEN SINK - No housewife would be without her collection of goodies under the sink. The same goes for househusbands who covet their paint and spirit collection in the garden shed. Getting noticed in supermarkets and other convenience stores, is to a large extent responsible for the growth in popularity of single use plastic packaging that is attractive to humans and, unfortunately, animals in the wild.



Humans love plastic. It came into its own with the introduction of electricity and the need for insulation with Bakelite, a thermo-setting plastic. Since then, a whole science has built up with hundreds of thermo plastics that are used to make everything from computers to cars, and to package just about everything that we eat in disposable single use containers. Why? Because it is so cheap and adaptable.


The name 'plastic' covers any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids that are malleable. Plastics are typically organic polymers of high molecular mass, but they often contain other substances. They are usually synthetic, most commonly derived from petrochemicals, but many are partially natural.

Due to their relatively low cost, ease of manufacture, versatility, and imperviousness to water, plastics are used in an enormous and expanding range of products, from paper clips to spaceships. They have already displaced many traditional materials, such as wood, stone, horn and bone, leather, paper, metal, glass, and ceramic, in most of their former uses. In developed countries, about a third of plastic is used in packaging and another third in buildings such as piping used in plumbing or vinyl siding. Other uses include automobiles (up to 20% plastic), furniture, and toys. In the developing world, the ratios may be different - for example, reportedly 42% of India's consumption is used in packaging.


Most plastics contain organic polymers. The vast majority of these polymers are based on chains of carbon atoms alone or with oxygen, sulfur, or nitrogen as well. The backbone is that part of the chain on the main "path" linking a large number of repeat units together. To customize the properties of a plastic, different molecular groups "hang" from the backbone (usually they are "hung" as part of the monomers before the monomers are linked together to form the polymer chain). The structure of these "side chains" influence the properties of the polymer. This fine tuning of the repeating unit's molecular structure influences the properties of the polymer.

Most plastics contain other organic or inorganic compounds blended in. The amount of additives ranges from zero percentage (for example in polymers used to wrap foods) to more than 50% for certain electronic applications. The average content of additives is 20% by weight of the polymer.




DISPOSABLE PLASTIC - Saying that a plastic is disposable, presumes a system for disposing of the single use item safely. Sadly, the big users of disposable plastics, such as supermarkets, rely on local authorities to have in place a waste (rubbish) collection and treatment system that is comprehensive. But that is simply not the case. If it were, there would be no plastic in the oceans. A useful history of packaging is published by The Guardian in December 2013. This subject could be a on a new world history curriculum in schools, by way of cultural artifacts as an inclusive doorway into learning about social and economic history, to include big business, the environment, food supply or typography fashions in design - not to mention pollution and climate change.




There are two types of plastics: thermoplastics and thermosetting polymers. Thermoplastics are the plastics that do not undergo chemical change in their composition when heated and can be molded again and again. Examples include polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride. Common thermoplastics range from 20,000 to 500,000 amu, while thermosets are assumed to have infinite molecular weight. These chains are made up of many repeating molecular units, known as repeat units, derived from monomers; each polymer chain will have several thousand repeating units.

Thermosets can melt and take shape once; after they have solidified, they stay solid. In the thermosetting process, a chemical reaction occurs that is irreversible, such as with polyester resin used to make fibreglass. The vulcanization of rubber is a thermosetting process. Before heating with sulfur, the polyisoprene is a tacky, slightly runny material, but after vulcanization the product is rigid and non-tacky, most commonly used to make car tyres.





Most plastics are produced from petrochemicals, ultimately making oil companies such as MobilExxon, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, responsible for producing the raw materials that allow us to pollute the oceans - never mind oil spillages. Motivated by the finiteness of petrochemical reserves and threat of global warming, bioplastics are being developed. Bioplastics are made substantially from renewable plant materials such as cellulose and starch.

In comparison to the global consumption of all flexible packaging, estimated at 12.3 million tonnes/year, estimates put global production capacity at 327,000 tonnes/year for related bio-derived materials.




PET is used to make water bottles and polythene is used for the caps. Obviously, we would not say stop using plastic for drinks bottles, but we would ask that manufacturers and their customers, dispose of the empties responsibly. The key is to recycle.





Biodegradable plastics break down into smaller particles (degrade) upon exposure to sunlight (e.g., ultra-violet radiation), water or dampness, bacteria, enzymes, wind abrasion, and in some instances, rodent, pest, or insect attack are also included as forms of biodegradation or environmental degradation. Some modes of degradation require that the plastic be exposed at the surface, whereas other modes will only be effective if certain conditions exist in landfill or composting systems. Starch powder has been mixed with plastic as a filler to allow it to degrade more easily, but it still does not lead to complete breakdown of the plastic. Some researchers have actually genetically engineered bacteria that synthesize a completely biodegradable plastic, but this material, such as Biopol, is expensive at present. Companies have made biodegradable additives to enhance the biodegradation of plastics. The term biodegradable is though misleading, since the smaller plastic particles do not disappear, they just get smaller.





The first plastic based on a synthetic polymer was made from phenol and formaldehyde, with the first viable and cheap synthesis methods invented in 1907, by Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian-born American living in New York state. Baekeland was looking for an insulating shellac to coat wires in electric motors and generators. He found that combining phenol (C6H5OH) and formaldehyde (HCOH) formed a sticky mass and later found that the material could be mixed with wood flour, asbestos, or slate dust to create strong and fire resistant "composite" materials. The new material tended to foam during synthesis, requiring that Baekeland build pressure vessels to force out the bubbles and provide a smooth, uniform product, as he announced in 1909, in a meeting of the American Chemical Society. Bakelite was originally used for electrical and mechanical parts, coming into widespread use in consumer goods and jewelry in the 1920s. Bakelite was a purely synthetic material, not derived from living matter. It was also an early thermosetting plastic.





NYLON - 1930s


The plastics industry was revolutionized in the 1930s with the announcement of polyamide (PA), far better known by its trade name nylon. Nylon was the first purely synthetic fiber, introduced by DuPont Corporation at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City.

In 1927, DuPont had begun a secret development project designated Fiber66, under the direction of Harvard chemist Wallace Carothers and chemistry department director Elmer Keiser Bolton. Carothers had been hired to perform pure research, and he worked to understand the new materials' molecular structure and physical properties. He took some of the first steps in the molecular design of the materials.

His work led to the discovery of synthetic nylon fiber, which was very strong but also very flexible. The first application was for bristles for toothbrushes. However, Du Pont's real target was silk, particularly silk stockings. Carothers and his team synthesized a number of different polyamides including polyamide 6.6 and 4.6, as well as polyesters.

It took DuPont twelve years and US$27 million to refine nylon, and to synthesize and develop the industrial processes for bulk manufacture. With such a major investment, it was no surprise that Du Pont spared little expense to promote nylon after its introduction, creating a public sensation, or "nylon mania".

Nylon mania came to an abrupt stop at the end of 1941 when the USA entered World War II. The production capacity that had been built up to produce nylon stockings, or just nylons, for American women was taken over to manufacture vast numbers of parachutes for fliers and paratroopers. After the war ended, DuPont went back to selling nylon to the public, engaging in another promotional campaign in 1946 that resulted in an even bigger craze, triggering the so-called nylon riots.

Subsequently polyamides 6, 10, 11, and 12 have been developed based on monomers which are ring compounds; e.g. caprolactam. Nylon 66 is a material manufactured by condensation polymerization.

Nylons still remain important plastics, and not just for use in fabrics. In its bulk form it is very wear resistant, particularly if oil-impregnated, and so is used to build gears, plain bearings, valve seats, seals and because of good heat-resistance, increasingly for under-the-hood applications in cars, and other mechanical parts.




PLASTIC DIETING - What's for lunch mum? The Eastern Garbage Patch is a large gyre of marine debris located near the Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Albatrosses in the area give birth to 500,000 chicks every year, and nearly half of them die – many of them after consuming plastic fed to them by their parents, who think it’s food.

Ingestion of plastic flotsam is a problem faced by many seabirds. The amount of plastic in the seas has increased dramatically since the first record in the 1960s, coming from waste discarded by ships, offshore dumping, litter on beaches and waste washed to sea by rivers. It is impossible to digest and takes up space in the stomach or gizzard that should be used for food, or can cause an obstruction that starves the bird directly. Studies of birds in the North Pacific have shown that ingestion of plastics results in declining body weight and body condition. This plastic is sometimes regurgitated and fed to chicks; a study of Laysan albatross chicks on Midway Atoll showed large amounts of ingested plastic in naturally dead chicks compared to healthy chicks killed in accidents. While not the direct cause of death, this plastic causes physiological stress and causes the chick to feel full during feedings, reducing its food intake and the chances of survival.





Polyvinyl chloride (commonly called "vinyl") incorporates chlorine atoms. The C-Cl bonds in the backbone are hydrophobic and resist oxidation (and burning). PVC is stiff, strong, heat and weather resistant, properties that recommend its use in devices for plumbing, gutters, house siding, enclosures for computers and other electronics gear. PVC can also be softened with chemical processing, and in this form it is now used for shrink-wrap, food packaging, and rain gear.

All PVC polymers are degraded by heat and light. When this happens, hydrogen chloride is released into the atmosphere and oxidation of the compound occurs. Because hydrogen chloride readily combines with water vapor in the air to form hydrochloric acid, polyvinyl chloride is not recommended for long-term archival storage of silver, photographic film or paper (mylar is preferable).



Coca Cola bottles, Diet Coke


GREENPEACE AUSTRALIA - Major bottlers led by Coca Cola have campaigned fiercely to pressure governments, keeping them from adopting recycling refund schemes. Coca Cola has even gone so far as to take the North Territory Government to court in order to shut the NT scheme down.

Whilst the beverage industry pedals myths about increased costs for the consumer, prices in South Australia are no higher than in other states. And again, according to CleanUp Australia, a national recycling refund program would cut current local government waste and recycling costs by $32 million.

With between a quarter and a third of all plastic marine pollution coming from the beverage industry a recycling refund scheme would go a long way to reducing the impact plastic has on our environment. 


Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
P.O. Box 1002, Cooper Station
New York, NY 10276-1002
Tel: (718) 852-2808





Unplasticised polystyrene is a rigid, brittle, inexpensive plastic that has been used to make plastic model kits and similar knick-knacks. It also is the basis for some of the most popular "foamed" plastics, under the name styrene foam or Styrofoam. Like most other foam plastics, foamed polystyrene can be manufactured in an "open cell" form, in which the foam bubbles are interconnected, as in an absorbent sponge, and "closed cell", in which all the bubbles are distinct, like tiny balloons, as in gas-filled foam insulation and flotation devices. In the late 1950s, high impact styrene was introduced, which was not brittle. It finds much current use as the substance of toy figurines and novelties.







The Plastic Oceans Foundation is a registered United Kingdom Charity (Number 1139843). They are dedicated to protecting and improving the environment. Through a wide range of activities the Foundation hopes to educate, provide a resource base for study and research, campaign for improvements in legislation and policy, raise funds for the development of solutions and develop a worldwide integrated social media network aimed at achieving the mission.



A mill that is fitted inside a vacuum suction guide to filter plastic pollution from seawater


PLASTIC SHREDDER - THE WORLD'S BIGGEST VACUUM CLEANER is a ship designed to suck up seawater and filter out the polluting plastic. The above picture is of the head of the proof of concept model boat, with the shredding mill under construction in July of 2015.


Millions of tons of trash enter the ocean each year and cluster in particular areas of the world’s oceans. One of the most infamous plastic debris patches is located in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, commonly referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). This patch of “plastic soup” is twice the size of Texas and contains six times more plastic than plankton biomass.


That is why we are designing the largest vacuum cleaner that the world has ever seen. We also need a lot of them. We need an army of robotic cleaners that will not mind spending months away from home and will not moan about the weather or soggy chips. That is the beauty about machines. They do what they are asked to do and provided that they are well built, they should give years of unstinting service, cleaning up the mess that we made, because we did not have a crystal ball to see what harm we might be causing.





1. In the Los Angeles area, 10 metric tons of plastic are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.

2. 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.

3. We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.

4. The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.

5. Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate.

5. The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production.

6. Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year.

8. Approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide every year.

9. 46 percent of plastics float (EPA 2006) and drift for years before concentrating in the ocean gyres.

10. It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.

11. 80 percent of pollution enters the ocean from the land.

12. In the Great Pacific Garbage Patch plastic pieces outnumber sea life six to one.

13. Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface.

14. One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.

15. 44 percent of all seabirds & 22 percent of cetaceans have plastic in or around their bodies.

16. 93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).





The world's largest soft drink manufacturer has designed the first plastic bottle that uses renewable materials and is 100% recyclable.

PlantBottle uses a combination of recycled plastic and a plant by-product. Two billion have been in use since November 2009 and the company says its initiative has cut the number of bottles in circulation by 45-50%.

It is the first step towards the next generation of sustainable packaging, lighter bottles made from 100% renewable and recyclable materials, and moves the company towards its goal of cutting out all material, energy and water losses over the life of its packaging.

Ultimately, the goal is to replace all fossil fuel-based plastic with bottles made from responsibly-sourced materials that are 100% recyclable. PlantBottle is helping the company meet its 2012 targets to improve packaging efficiency by 25% and recycle 50% of its bottles and cans.

The technology behind this first generation PlantBottle is a mixture of PET and up to 30% plant-based renewable feedstock. It has a lower carbon footprint and is 100% compatible with the existing PET recycling system.

A plant-based bottle reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 12-19% compared to a petroleum-based PET bottle. Converting all bottles would be the equivalent to eliminating the CO2 emissions from 2.7m barrels of oil.

Coca-Cola wants packaging to be seen not as waste but as a valuable resource for future use. Its policy is to make bottles recyclable, not bio-degradeable, arguing that environmentally and economically it is better to capture raw material in a plastic bottle and use it again.

The company says it is leading the way in turning plant-based material (and in the future by-products or waste) into packaging of consistent quality that makes consumers feel better about their purchases.
















BLOOMBERG SEPT 2014 - Dunkin’ Donuts, looking to phase out its signature foam cups, is testing recyclable-plastic versions to see if they can withstand temperatures of 200 degrees Fahrenheit while helping preserve the environment.

Stores recently started using polypropylene hot-coffee cups in about 100 locations in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and California, Scott Murphy, chief supply chain officer at Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., parent of the business, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg reporters: Dunkin’ will probably make a decision on a foam cup alternative next year and begin a nationwide introduction in 2016, he is quoted as saying: “Consumers want a more environmentally friendly product,” Murphy said yesterday. “But they don’t want to sacrifice the performance of the current foam cup.”

Dunkin’ said in its 2012 corporate responsibility report that it would find an alternative to foam within two to three years. About a year ago, it began testing a double-walled paper cup in restaurants in Brookline in its home state of Massachusetts, after the city banned polystyrene food containers. In July, fifth-grade students called on Dunkin’ to get rid of foam cups, delivering a petition to its headquarters in Canton.





Other food and drink chains have made efforts to make packaging more sustainable. Starbucks Corp. has been adding recycling to its stores in the U.S. and last year began selling a $1 reusable cup. McDonald’s Corp. started serving hot drinks out of paper cups and has said changing all of its U.S. restaurants to paper will take several years.

Polypropylene cups are sturdy, don’t require a sleeve to keep hands cool and can be recycled through most city curbside programs, Murphy said. Still, he said they’re more expensive than foam, which are good insulators and relatively cheap to make. “We’ve been working on this for five years. It’s an interesting problem.”

Dunkin’ Brands, which also owns the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream stores, said yesterday that it expects third-quarter U.S. same store sales for the coffee chain to increase by as much as 2.25 percent, below what analysts were estimating on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Shares of the company, which has about 7,800 Dunkin’ Donuts stores across the U.S., fell 2.4 percent to $45.64 at the close in New York. Contact reporter: Leslie Patton (Chicago):
Contact editors: Nick Turner, Kevin Orland, John Lear:







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5 Gyres - Understanding Plastic Marine Pollution

National Geographic 2014 July ocean-plastic-debris-trash-pacific-garbage-patch

Plastic Soup News Blogspot 2014_July

Salon 2014/09/14 we_cant_strain_the_entire_ocean_the_horrifying_truth_about_where_our_plastic_ends_up

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Neuro research project 2013 death-by-plastic

Wikipedia Acrylonitrile_butadiene_styrene

Wikipedia Polypropylene

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Wikipedia Polymer Organic_synthesis

Wikipedia Plastic

Biogeosciences Net report on ocean plastic 2015

The Guardian sustainable business coca cola renewable bottle

Killer Coke bottled water

Greenpeace Australia what we do oceans stop trashing




PLASTIC IN THE WILD - Plastic waste has a huge detrimental affect on wildlife. Plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food. Midway Atoll receives substantial amounts of marine debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Of the 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses that inhabit Midway, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system.






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