- Education and Science
Life Before Plastic
What would we do without plastic?
Have you ever thought about what it was like before there was plastic? It wasn't that long ago. I am a child of the sixties and grew up in the seventies. It seemed back then, everything was called 'mod'. Free-formed items made from colorful plastic. Portable radios, portable 8-track players were brightly colored and with rounded off shapes. Television housings were made out of white plastic and rounded off corners. Plastic furniture. Plastic dishes. EVERYTHING was turning plastic.
I could still visit the non-plastic world on weekends, holidays and other family get-togethers. My grandparents had acquired all the necessities of life prior to plastic, and were still using them. Especially my paternal grandparents. They were from Germany. They were very frugal. Plastic was very late to enter their home.
My maternal grandparents were more into buying new things. Their house was more mod indeed. But their very house belied the recent transition to plastic everything. The beautiful wood wetbar in the basement, backed up by wood and glass shelves. The terrazzo floors in the basement. The brick fireplaces. The Lannon stone exterior. The whole house had an air of superior quality. With no plastic in sight.
People born after a certain date probably don't even know what the fuss is about. They take all the plastic around them for granted. But try to imagine, from the time you get up until the time you go to bed - everything you touch is made of wood, metal, ceramic or glass - nothing else. You wake up. Turn off your metal alarm clock, that sits on your wooden nite stand. You slide out of bed and put on your leather soled slippers, and plod to the bathroom. (there WAS a form of resin used to make a brittle type of early plastic used in electrical devices and other things, called bakelite - I'm thinking of the light switches you turned on as you awoke...). You look in your chrome metal-surrounded mirror as you whip up some shaving lather in your ceramic shaving cup, applying it to your face with your horse-hair bristle brush... No plastic shower curtains! YAY... Cloth. And no hair-dryers! In fact, you would be lucky to find a place to plug in anything in a bathroom. Now you might have been able to find a little early plastic, as you comb your hair after your shower. Bakelite or celluloid were used for combs. But back to glass and metal as you open your hair gel and your toothpaste...
As you leave home, driving your all metal car... arrive at whatever job and work all day without plastic... although telephones were also made of bakelite. And there was rubber. Rubber trim on the edge of your desk maybe. I had an old desk like that. When did they invent Naugahyde? And were car seats and seats in diners made of some sort of resin-impregnated cloth? Or was it patent leather?
I love to watch old movies and notice things like that. There is always so much more chrome everywhere - kitchens, bathrooms, automobiles... Next time you watch an old movie, compare the little details of their everyday life with those of your own. Notice how plastic has changed everything. Look around the room you are in right now. Imagine how different it would be without plastic. Even our money has turned to plastic in the form of debit cards. Fewer and fewer people are carrying cash.
It makes you stop and think - how some inventions can so revolutionize our lives, yet we forget or don't even know what life was like beforehand. Plastic is one of those inventions. I wonder what the next thing will be?