Is there anything that we cannot do with plastic?

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Plastic is a wonderful material for creating things but it is harder to recycle, or at least some types are. The development of plastics began in the middle eighteen hundreds with the work of Alexander Parkes. It was known that natural plastics like shellac could be used but Parkes saw the potential for a pliable, malleable material that could have multiple uses in multiple settings. Natural rubber seemed the best place to start and this was the case. The addition of certain chemicals improved the original compound. Goodyear’s work with vulcanisation was evidence of that.

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Alexander Parkes creation Parkesine, or nitrocellulose, is widely accepted as the first proper artificial plastic. It was first displayed at the great exhibition where it won a prize. It featured cellulose, which comes from plants,combined with nitric acid to hold it all together.  When it was dissolved in alcohol it hardened, meaning that you could shape it into whatever you wanted. One downside was it was highly flammable.

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We have come a long way from this basic plastic. It has become the  basis for a huge amount of items. From Plastic Shelving, like that available from, components for the International Space Station and cutlery.

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