The Case of Plastics: An Introduction

Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, was perfected in 1907, making items like this radio more affordable and accessible to the public. CHF Collections. Photograph by Gregory Tobias.

What is plastic? I quickly learned at the beginning of this project that I don’t really know. The computer keyboard I type on is obviously plastic, but what does that mean? What is it? How is it made?

Plastic is a word that produces strong emotions and can mean many different things. It can describe our credit cards or the popular girls in a Lindsay Lohan movie. Stories of medical breakthroughs, recycling campaigns, and environmental destruction proliferate and force us to consider the role of plastics in our world. But how do we determine costs and benefits of something we barely understand?      

To understand plastics we need to know the whole story. Over the next year the Chemical Heritage Foundation will work with three Philadelphia-area high schools to develop The Case of Plastics, a project supported by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Heritage Philadelphia Program. Through this new program, students will study the history and science of plastics. They will then use their knowledge to debate questions of public policy and the place of plastics in our future.

This blog will provide regular updates about the project, discussions of the history and science of plastics, and perspectives on our relationship with plastics. We encourage readers to think about the role of plastic in their lives.

Posted In: Project Development

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