• Gabriela Cimadevilla

the story of waste

waste has many faces. it can take form as food scraps being improperly discarded, textiles piling in landfills due to fast fashion, runoff from synthetically fertilized agriculture, municipal waste from city streets, etc... it's most recognizable and arguably most taxing, however, is plastic.

since it's inception, plastic has become the craze, replacing traditional methods of packaging like glass, paper and natural fabrics. not entirely, but enough to the point that there is plastic in almost everything we purchase.

plastic was presented to scientists in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt. it was introduced as a potential candidate to preserve natural resources (ironic, right?)

and protect wildlife from being widely hunted for ivory and shells (pfft, okay). considering that the basis of plastic is polymers, long chains of molecules derived from cellulose, it sounded promising. but, it became increasingly cheaper to synthesize these polymers from resources like petroleum. by 1907, the first plastic material consisting of manufactured polymers arrived to the markets thanks to Leo Baekeland, changing the purpose and future of plastic in pursuit of finding an alternative to electrical insulators to meet the demands of the increasing usage of electricity in the states. the success of these man-made polymers prompted researchers to invest in alternatively sourced types of polymers.

during World War II, the necessity of plastics skyrocketed. WWII birthed materials like Nylon for war-affiliated fabrics and Plexiglass for windows in aircrafts during battle; the production of plastic during this time increased to a whopping 300%! the romanticism americans experienced with this wonder of a material that had no limits and was [at the time] deemed safe, soon dissipated as concerns sprawled in the 1960's after finding the first piece plastic polluting the ocean. with this growing concern, the connotation of plastic became more associated with fickle, cheap people. as the perspective of plastic shifted, so did the very meaning of the word. once glorified, it was later tallied onto the increasing environmental concerns that continue to plague us today; each linked to somewhere between the 50'-60's.

a little over a century old, plastic has infested our planet, producing over 300 million tons each year. that's roughly the same weight as if all of humanity unanimously stepped on a scale. considering that most of it is engineered for single-use purposes, meaning we'll only use it for an average of a couple of minutes before its disposed of, it is an alarmingly large amount of waste we're making for something that serves such little time in our life.

this trend is no different than the negligence that was adopted during the industrial revolution, exploiting earth's resources for wealth and comfort, displacing indigenous folk/people of color through colonialism, subjecting them to life-threatening environmental conditions, and then having the audacity to say that people of color are to blame for polluting our earth. that very mindset is #wasteful and quite frankly, #plastic.

“Fact Sheet: End Plastic Pollution.” Earth Day Network, 13 Mar. 2018,

“The History and Future of Plastics.” Science History Institute, 20 Dec. 2016,


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