The plastics journey: Where are we now?

8 November 2018 by Carla Yorukoglu

While plastics have many benefits, plastic waste is a serious form of pollution, particularly in our oceans. Here we take a look at the history of plastics and where we are now.

 

1907

Bakelite, the first mass produced synthetic plastic invented.

Make-up applicator

1929-35

Polyester, PVC, polythene and nylon invented.

1960

First record of wildlife ingesting plastic debris.

Crustacean

1972

First scientific report of plastic litter in the ocean. Also first scientific report shows that plastic pellets, found in the ocean, have absorbed toxic chemicals from surrounding seawater.

1975

First recordings of plastic litter on the seabed 180m to 400m down.

1990

Widespread use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics begins.

1997

The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' discovered. In March 2018, the patch was an estimated three times the size of France.

2002

90% of deep-sea litter is made of plastic.

Bangladesh becomes the first country to ban plastic bags.

2004

Term 'microplastic' first used in scientific paper to describe pieces of plastic under 5mm in marine sediments.

2011

Wales brings in 5p plastic bag charge.

No plastic bags sign

2013

Zooplankton found to eat microplastics, making their carbon-rich poo float rather than sink to the sea floor.

Northern Ireland brings in 5p plastic bag charge.

2014-15

Scotland brings in 5p plastic bag charge.

England brings in 5p plastic bag charge. The policy featured references to NERC-funded research.

2016

UK government pledges to ban microbeads.

First evidence of deep-sea animals eating microplastics.

UK retailers use 83% less plastic bags since 5p plastic bag tax.

40% reduction in plastic bags found on UK beaches.

Whale eating plastic

2017

Study shows the extent of microplastics in freshwater sediments, which are primarily made up of road-surface marking paints and microfibers from clothing.

Blue Planet II released, featuring NERC-funded research.

2018

UK government brings in microbead ban, a policy which featured NERC-funded research.

In the 25 Year Environmental Plan, the UK government commits to zero 'avoidable' plastic waste by 2042.

UK government holds consultation on single-use plastic tax and announces consultation on plastic bottle recycling scheme.

UK Research & Innovation launches £20 million Plastics & Research Innovation Fund.

The future: Understanding plastic pollution gets us closer to solutions.

Join the plastic tide

From the comfort of your home, use your tagging skills - external link - to help a computer program learn how to look for the plastics that litter our beaches.

JoggerHunt for nurdles

Going to the beach? Look out for these tiny plastic pellets and report your sightings - external link.

Be a plogger

Clean up your community and keep fit - join the new plogging trend and pick up litter while you jog.


To find out more about plastics research and innovation, read about tackling the plastics problem - external link - on the UKRI website.