Plastic Lifecycle

From the 1930s to the future of plastic, learn how an innovation created for wartime became a household item and how our goal is to make it a more renewable resource.

The 1930s

Years Until First Million Pounds of Plastic
Gathered: 40

In the 1930s, plastics began as an innovation during wartime, with an original proposition to be a lighter, safer, better alternative to products used every day. While nylon was repurposed for military applications, HDPE, High Density Polyethylene, was used in light-weighting and held as a state secret. The original invention of plastic made society more sustainable in the short term.

The 1950s

Years Until First Million Pounds of Plastic
Gathered: 20
Plastics in Production: 1.5 Million

The 1950s saw an exponential growth of plastics, and it is when polyester first reached the market (and was hailed as a wonder fiber!) Finally, you could wash a garment, hang it up and have it ready to wear in a couple of hours with no need for ironing! Plastic packaging begins to replace traditional packaging due to its economical, convenient, and environmentally friendly attributes. Single-use and disposal was not the primary value proposition of plastics initially.

The 1980s

Plastics in Production: 6.8 Million
Tons of Recycled Plastic: 20,000
Recycling Rate: 0.3%

As we begin running out of landfill space for plastic waste, the nation shifts its focus to recycling. Along with this new focus comes the creation of Resin Identification Codes. However, as plastics become universal and the cost of production continues to go down, there is not as much thought given to the end of life processing or creating secondary applications for discarded plastics.

The 1990s

Plastics in Production: 17.1 Million
Tons of Recycled Plastic: 2.5M
Recycling Rate: 7.9%

In the 1990s, we began to see a collective interest in solving the existing problem, but as soon as we started to solve the bottle problem, broader use of a range of plastics emerged. This results in progress and investments on a select set of plastics but does not anticipate where the market is going. So, the recycling rate moves in a linear fashion after an exponential jump.

Early 2000s

Plastics in Production: 35.6 Million
Tons of Recycled Plastic: 3.1 M
Recycling Rate: 8.7%

In the early 2000s, recycling challenges arise. By 2018, there’s a confluence of events. China stops taking mixed plastics, resins are mixed, single-stream recycling is in full swing to help make a life for the consumer more accessible, and only limited markets exist for grey and black resin. Flexible packaging gets mixed in with paper and there is newer demand for recycling solutions, but limited dollars are available to solve this problem.

The Future of Plastic

Plastics Production: Linear
Tons of Recycled Plastic: Exponential

The future of plastic – plastic 2.0 – a renewable resource with infinite use and infinite recycling. Polypropylene plastic is versatile and enables the next renaissance of plastics recycling, where innovation across all plastics is driving us toward a circular economy. It will take all of us to bring recycling rates to where they need to be. We believe that if a recycled polypropylene resin can be offered that is interchangeable with virgin, we’ll see more polypropylene emerge.