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A Brief History of Plastic

A Brief History of Plastic

Planet or Plastic? A Quick Look at How We Became Reliant on Plastic

As part of our coverage of National Geographic’s important multiyear Plastic or Planet? initiative, we wanted to share this quick video showing the meteoric rise of single-use plastic after WWII.

A Brief History of Single-Use Plastic

  • Before 1950, plastic wasn’t a big part of our lives

    Vinyl Record
  • During WW2, the military discovered the versatility of plastic

    WWII Parachutes
  • In the 1950s, companies found more ways to use this cheaper material

  • By the 1960s, global plastic production increased 400% as we embraced a new “disposable lifestyle”

    Plastic Cups Plates Cutlery
  • In the 1970s, we started to become concerned about the effects of plastic on human health

    Plastic Health Concerns
  • But our love for plastic continued; by 1979, we were producing more plastic than steel

    Water Bottles
  • In 1987, the “Garbage Barge” made headlines

    Garbage Barge
  • In 2007, San Francisco banned plastic bags

    Plastic Bags
  • In 2014, plastic bag usage in the U.S. topped 100 billion

  • In 2015, the plastics industry lobbied successfully to ban plastic bag bans in some states

comment_2Plastic continues to choke our planet and threaten lifeforms worldwide. While recycling is good, refusing is even better. In what ways have you replaced plastic in your home? Please share your ideas with our readers below.


Do you remember to bring reusable bags when you go shopping?

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3 years ago

I wanted to share this on FB but the link won’t work when I click on FB. Did the plastic industry ban that too?

3 years ago
Reply to  Kayleen

LOL Kayleen, thanks for your comment and wanting to share! We didn’t have any issues with the Facebook link; maybe try refreshing your browser or restarting your computer? Good luck!

Stephanie Adams
Stephanie Adams(@smadamama)
3 years ago

We do not use single use plastics, especially we try to buy food in glass jars, howecer hummus,kerchup and mustard usually come in plastic. We refuse plastic single use water bottles and cringe when I see them however. There are 2 ways that I see them used that is beneficial to the user but creates tons of waste. My husband and I have creatively tried to come up with a solution for the homeless population. As it is important for them to carry water, metal or hard plaric and glass water bottles just get lost or stolen…so I am curious if these bottles can be made of a biodegradable material without that leaking into the water and atill having a decent shelf life! The homeless people we serve use this water type of bottle over and over again like a reusable water bottle. Benefits are no one steals them, they fit easily in pants or hand of backpack and if it gets lost the can get a new one anywhere or for cheap…as a non profit organization during meal outreaches… Read more »

Kim Metzger
Kim Metzger(@kimetzger)
3 years ago

I bought a tin laundry basket then the handles of my plastic one broke.

Karen Codrington
Karen Codrington(@karen-codrington)
3 years ago

Very powerful video.

Ann Daley
Ann Daley(@wordyone)
3 years ago

I use my own bags to shop, buy everything I can in glass containers, and what plastic I do have to use, I recycle, along with any glass, paper and metal containers, via my city’s weekly curbside recycling pick up.

Sharon Campese
Sharon Campese(@sharon313)
3 years ago

My mother hoards plastic of every kind, shape, colour etc. It is so hard for me to clean out her cupboards if she is around to see. The plastic industry back in the day did a good job of convincing people of the new ‘wonder product’.

Kristi Reneau
Kristi Reneau(@kristireneau)
3 years ago

Wow…plastic production increased by 400% by the 1960’s. That’s insane! It would be awesome to have the above timeline in a graphic that we could easily share to social media or in parties.

Amber Evans
Amber Evans(@friendofnature9)
3 years ago

Wow! This is terrible! I recycle, but I need to start making better choices and avoid plastic when I can.