Happy accidents
The Unintentional Development of Plastic

Freddy G Photo: © Unsplash

The plastics we rely so heavily on today weren’t a single discovery. In fact, they weren’t even all discovered on purpose! Tune in to find out more.

Verónica Zaragovia

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Plastic’s history is chock-full of happy accidents, starting in the late 1860s when John Wesley Hyatt unintention-ally developed Celluloid, a synthetic plastic that he used as a substitute for ivory in billiard balls. In 1907, yet another fluke led to Leo Baekeland inadvertently inventing the first fully synthetic plastic, Bakelite, while work-ing to find a substitute for shellac.

While plastic used to be an innovative material, its novelty has worn off due to its prevalence in our daily lives, and its excessive use in everyday commodities has earned it a deservedly bad reputation in recent decades. Nevertheless, the world seemingly can’t overcome its dependence on plastics – and some experts would ar-gue that it shouldn’t – but we will have to find ways to reduce plastic’s impact on the environment moving for-ward. 

Our producer Verónica Zaragovia investigates the past, present, and future of plastic by reflecting on its use in her everyday life and gathering insight from plastics experts, featuring Wolfgang Meyer, the President and Owner of Plastic Business Consultants; Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story; Susan Moss-man, the Vice-Chair of the Plastics Historical Society; an interview from the Science History Institute with chemist Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of Kevlar; Shelley Wilks Geehr, Director at the Science History Institute; clips from All Things Bakelite, a documentary about the discovery of plastic; and Joris Mercelis, author of Beyond Bakelite.

Listen to this audio piece – jam-packed with experts – to learn all about plastic.


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