Timeline: Our love affair with plastic and the growing movement to address plastic waste
Searching for solutions as plastic waste mounts
Earliest plastics introduced
1869 — Celluloid, which will eventually become the first financially successful plastic product, is invented by American John W. Hyatt. It will begin to be mass produced three years later.
1908 — Cellophane is developed by Swiss chemist Jacques E. Brandenberger. Made from cellulose, it is manufactured in thin, transparent sheets, which made it ideal for food packaging.
1909 — Bakelite is developed in New York by chemist Leo H. Baekeland. It is the first fully synthetic plastic and will be used to make kitchen appliances, jewelry, telephones, radios and auto parts.
1920 — Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is invented. Sturdy and chemically resistant to acids and salts, it eventually becomes one of the most widely-produced plastic products in the world.
Plastic gets its name
1925 — The term “plastic” is introduced. The term is derived from the Greek word “plastikos” which means “capable of being shaped or molded.”
1931 — Acrylic glass, best known by the trade names Plexiglas and Lucite, is introduced. It is used to make household products, eyeglasses and dental prosthetics and soon becomes a popular material for artists and furniture makers.
1953 — A patent is given to a polycarbonate resin thermoplastic that will be used to make aircraft windows and, decades later, CDs, DVDs and iPods. Known as Lexan in the U.S., it has gone by the brand names Merlon and Makrolon overseas.
1954 — Extruded polystyrene foam (aka “blue board” and trademarked as Styrofoam) is introduced. A variation, expanded polystyrene foam, known colloquially as “styrofoam” is later used to make disposable cups and fast food packaging. According to surveys, only about 1 percent of it is recycled.
1961 — The non-profit organization Keep America Beautiful joins forces with the Ad Council to create a series of anti-littering commercials. (Decades later, the advertising campaign will be criticized for not targeting manufacturers and distributors of one-use plastics and other containers.)
1977-1979 — American grocery stores introduce plastic bags at their checkout counters, eventually replacing brown paper bags.
Controlling plastic waste
2002 — Ireland introduces a €0.15 tax on plastic checkout bags. An estimated 90 percent of consumers switched over to reusable bags within a year. The tax was increased to €0.22 in 2007.
2008 — Chinese officials announce a nationwide ban plastic bags, to take effect in Jan. 2009. The country was using an estimated 3 billion bags per day.
2009 — The District of Columbia enacts 5 cents charge for carryout bags from businesses selling food or alcohol.
2011-2014 — Three counties in Hawaii prohibit distribution of non-biodegradable bags at checkout counters.
2012 — San Francisco becomes the first American city to ban plastic bags.
2014 — California becomes the first state to enact a statewide ban on single use plastic bags at supermarkets, liquor stores and drugstores.
New Jersey gets into the plastic act
2015 — In New Jersey’s Atlantic County, the borough of Longport approves an ordinance to place a fee of not less than 10 cents for each non-reusable carryout bag. In Bergen County, Members of Girl Scout Troop 19 in Teaneck present a petition to the Township Council calling for ban on plastic grocery bags. Governor Chris Christie signs legislation, to take effect in 2019, that will ban the sale of plastic microbeads in toothpaste, soaps, and other cosmetic products in the state.
2016 — The Netherlands bans free plastic bags and imposes a tax of €0.22 per bag, which leads to a reported drop in plastic bag use by 71 percent.
2017 — Environmental groups call for statewide ban on the intentional release of helium balloons. Teaneck Council approves 5-cent charge for plastic bags, to take effect in 2018. “Eco Chic” exhibit opens at Paterson Museum featuring clothes and other items made from plastic bags, drinking straws and other single use plastics. A bill that would ban styrofoam items from New Jersey schools is drafted by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington. Leonia school district announces it will phase out styrofoam products in its cafeteria in favor of compostable trays.
2018 — A law signed by Gov. Chris Christie bans the manufacture of plastic microbeads used as exfoliants in many face-wash, soap and beauty products. Jersey City and Hoboken adopt plastic bag ban. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy rejects proposed statewide fee on single use plastic bags, suggesting he would prefer a statewide ban. California takes steps to ban plastic straws in restaurants. The Dutch market Ekoplaza introduces the world’s first plastic-free aisle in its Amsterdam store. All items are packaged in compostable or easily recyclable materials.