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Life Before Plastic

Updated on October 15, 2009

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?


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    • gary777g profile image

      gary777g 3 years ago from Springdale, AR

      Barbara, I am familiar with garbage islands, plastic in landfills, etc. I keep getting comments telling me how bad plastic is. This tells me a reader did not understand (or read?) the actual article and only read the comments. The life I want to remember is from before plastic. The article talks about what people did before plastic. It celebrates all the ways people solved problems and made useful things in a world without any plastic because plastic wasn't invented yet and there was no plastic. That is why it is called Life Before Plastic. Try and imagine it. It is hard to do if you weren't born during that time. Read the article not the comments. I am not a plastic lover. I am a history lover and a lover of a time that has passed - the time before plastic.

    • profile image

      barbara 3 years ago

      Try looking up garbage island nothing but plastic and yes fish, birds are eating it and are dying which we are eating the toxic fish.

    • profile image

      Anitra 3 years ago

      Until I found this I thuohgt I'd have to spend the day inside.

    • gary777g profile image

      gary777g 3 years ago from Springdale, AR

      Hello Joe M, I wrote the above article as a stand alone article. It is not an excerpt from a book. Thank you for you interest. Gary

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      JOE M 3 years ago

      What is the name of the book? Is it still available??

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      Dave B 6 years ago

      I'm always curious about packaging before plastic. It seems my entire recyling bin is plastic packaging.

    • gary777g profile image

      gary777g 6 years ago from Springdale, AR

      Mike, You must be a friend of Chris. No. I am not a "retard"; and how rude of you to say so. Both you and Chris have missed the point of my article entirely. read these words: Imagine a world without plastic! THAT is what i was writing about. I was remembering life before everything was plastic. If you were to read the article and not just the comments, you would see the difference. Since I have decided to see some good in this new world of plastic, I have become the target of attacks on my intelligence. Your mind would have to be very small or so tightly closed not to see some good coming from plastic. I did not write this article to promote plastic. I wrote it to pull people back in time to imagine a world where NOTHING was plastic. And now, when we live surrounded by everything plastic, I see how impossible it is for some of you to grasp the concept. When the world changes all around you, and you choose to find some good in it - prepare for the Mikes and Chris' to call you a retard, as they completely miss the point.

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      Mike 6 years ago

      Gary you are a retard. Plastic is made of oil. Oil is known to cause cancer in lab rats. The ocean is filled with it. Small fish eat it, bigger fish eat them. Come on give your head a shake. The world has lived for eternity without it and in a span of 60 years the earth is poisoned by it. They say we are running out of oil yet we make disposable toys out of it! Want to clean up earth? ban plastic. Period! Get your shit together!

    • profile image

      Gary 7 years ago

      Hi Chris,

      Although I was writing about the difference between life as we know it now, and life before plastic, let me make it clear that I do believe plastic has helped us in many ways! Cochlear implants, hip and knee replacements, new valves for the heart, pacemakers - many medical advances require plastic. Recycling of packaging is made possible by plastic... Plastic has brought so many things to life that far exceed any perceived detriments - and yes I say perceived... You have obviously received a simpleton's portion of education, accepting all the propaganda that passes for schooling...Cajoling you to believe that we are all wrecking the planet. Poor Chris! What a wretched life you have to look forward to! WAKE UP and smell the coffee in your plastic cup!

    • profile image

      Chris 7 years ago


      Plastic will hurt us all, and is hurting us all. The world is choking in plastic. It breaks down into toxic chemicals, it leaches toxins, it is ugly, it kills animals. Plastic is AWEFUL.

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      Ariana 8 years ago

      this helped me so much, im doing history day and this was a good article, thanks!

    • gary777g profile image

      gary777g 8 years ago from Springdale, AR

      I don't think plastic will really hurt any one, but in a romantic old fashioned way I think it would be interesting to return to a world of chrome, ceramic and .... and everything NOT plastic! What a strange world it would seem now that everything is plastic! Thanks for your comments. I hope to write more hubs you like in the future. Gary

    • Teresa Laurente profile image

      Maria Teresa Rodriguez - Laurente 8 years ago from San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.

      I know, I am afraid about the many stories about plastic. What it does to our health and environment. How ironic that a thing that helps us is the very thing that brings doom. Great hubs my friend. More power.