Why Plastic Is a Design Failure

And the brands and designers innovating to change that

Tabitha Whiting
Modus

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Photo: lindsay_imagery/Getty Images

AsAs a material for use in design, plastic only became readily available and widely used in the 1950s. Since then, we’ve managed to amass over 8 billion tons of the stuff. And every single piece of this 8 billion tons remains on our planet. Much of it exists as microplastics within our water system, where it’s an issue for our health and is causing havoc for marine life in our oceans.

Plastic is a design failure. It was born as a useful material, but without due thought into where it would end up and whether it could be reused.

So why was plastic invented in the first place?

Plastics are a category of materials otherwise known as polymers, which are made of long chains of molecules, meaning that they’re pliable and easily shaped. These polymers exist in nature — for instance, cellulose, the material that makes up the cell walls of plants, is a common polymer. It’s only over the last 200 years that we’ve learned how to make polymers synthetically to produce a cheap, strong, lightweight, and flexible material: plastic.

The very first plastic is generally accepted as Parkesine, invented in 1856 by Alexander Parkes. It was made using the cellulose polymer found in the cell…

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Tabitha Whiting
Modus
Writer for

Exploring the good and the bad of climate change communication and sustainability marketing 🌱