I'm pretty sure Alexander Parkes deserves to be better known. Not only did he have 19 children but in 1856 he invented the first plastic which he called parkesine. How did he find the time!! He was another one of those ingenious, busy Victorians who did so much to mould (pun most certainly intended) our modern world. I mean, plastic is absolutely brilliant. It really is. Just consider the first 15 minutes of my day for example. The casing around my alarm clock, the pipes that provide me with running water, my toothbrush, the microbeads used in the toothpaste, the rawl plugs keeping the mirror on the wall, the buttons on my clothes, the tiles on my kitchen floor, the insulated lining of the fridge, the milk container, the top on the coffee jar, the bag keeping my bread fresh, the switch on the toaster, the CD I play during breakfast, the hooks holding the curtains up, the frames of the windows I look out of to check the weather. And that's just the obvious stuff. It's absolutely everywhere, doing absolutely anything and everything. I hope Mr Parkes benefited hugely from his ingenuity - he deserved to.
It's so useful
It's so useful that we produce 50kg each year for every person on the planet. Of this, 30% of it is used for packaging, 30% for building things, 20% for cars, with the furniture and toy industries also heavily reliant on the material. And as the developing world gets richer and richer, the trend is only going one way.
And it's no wonder we produce so much, because the stuff is so versatile. It's long lasting, cheap, malleable, colourful, light and strong. But it can also be the opposite of all these things. And it can be used for so many things. Furthermore you don't need to chop down forests to make it, or create huge quarries to extract it. And as it's so light, it costs very little to transport it compared to glass or metal or paper which it has come to replace.