A Brief History of Plastics



This book chapter provides a comprehensive account of global plastic production, use, and fate from 1950 to 2017 and thus covers all plastic humankind has ever made. It starts with a brief introduction of plastic’s origin and nomenclature, followed by a detailed global material flow analysis of the 68 years of plastic mass production, use, and end-of-life management. The analysis includes all major polymer resins and fibers, as well as all additives, and discusses production by polymer, use by consuming sector, and end-of-life management by waste management type. The historical analysis is followed by a discussion of the current global state of plastic production, use, and end-of-life management. The chapter closes with trend projections from 2017 to 2050, which show that even if recycling and incineration rates were to increase at historical rates, this would not be enough to stem the tide of plastic waste. This suggests that changes and improvements in waste management strategies need to be supplemented with serious source reduction efforts in order to make our use of plastic more sustainable.


Plastic Synthetic polymers Material flow analysis Plastic production Plastic waste generation Plastic waste management 


  1. American Chemical Society (1993) Leo Hendrick Baekeland and the Invention of Bakelite.
  2. American Chemistry Council (ACC) (2013) 2013 resin report: the annual statistical report of the north American plastics industry. ACC, Washington, DC, USAGoogle Scholar
  3. Chemical & Petrochemicals Manufacturers’ Association India (CPMA) (2015) Indian petrochemical industry: Country paper from India. Asia Petrochemical Industry Conference, May 2015, Seoul, KoreaGoogle Scholar
  4. China Ministry of Commerce (2016) Report of China renewable resource recycling industries development.
  5. Consultic (2015) Post-consumer plastics waste management in European countries 2014—EU28 + 2 countries. PlasticsEurope, Brussels, BelgiumGoogle Scholar
  6. Davis J, Geyer R, Ley J et al (2007) Time-dependent material flow analysis of iron & steel in the UK—part 2: scrap generation & recycling. Resour Conserv Recycl 51:118–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Drycleaning Institute of Australia (2012) International fair claims guide for consumer textiles products. Drycleaning Institute of Australia, Alexandria, NSW, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  8. D-Waste (2019) Waste Atlas.
  9. European Bioplastics (2016) Fact sheet: what are bioplastics? European Bioplastics, Berlin, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  10. European Bioplastics (2018) Bioplastics market data 2018. European Bioplastics, Berlin, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  11. Freinkel S (2011) A brief history of plastic’s conquest of the world. Sci Am.
  12. Geyer R, Jackson T (2004) Supply loops and their constraints: the industrial ecology of recycling and reuse. Calif Manag Rev 40(2):55–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Geyer R, Jambeck J, Lavender Law K (2015) Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Sci Adv 3(7):e1700782CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Geyer R, Kuczenski B, Zink T et al (2016) Common misconceptions about recycling. J Ind Ecol 20(5):1010–1017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Global Industry Analysis (GIA) (2008) Plastic additives: a global strategic business report. MCP-2122. GIA, San Jose, CA, USAGoogle Scholar
  16. Hoornweg D, Bhada-Tata P (2012) What a waste: a global review of solid waste management. Urban Development series knowledge papers. World Bank, Washington, DC, USAGoogle Scholar
  17. Jambeck J, Geyer R, Wilcox C et al (2015) Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347:768–771CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kuczenski B, Geyer R (2010) Material flow analysis of polyethylene terephthalate in the US, 1996-2007. Resour Conserv Recycl 54:1161–1169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kuczenski B, Geyer R (2013) PET bottle reverse logistics—environmental performance of California’s CRV program. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18(2):456–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lebreton L, Andrady A (2019) Future scenarios of global plastic waste generation and disposal. Palgrave Commun 5:6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Linzner R, Salhofer S (2014) Municipal solid waste recycling and the significance of the informal sector in urban China. Waste Manag Res 32:896–907CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mutha NH, Patel M, Premnath V (2006) Plastics material flow analysis for India. Resour Conserv Recycl 47:222–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. National Bureau of Statics of China (2017) Annual Data, China Statistical Yearbook, 1996–2016.
  24. National Development and Reform Commission of China (2014) Yearly report of resource comprehensive utilization in China.
  25. PCI Wood Mackenzie (2017) Global Fibres supply demand report 2017. PCI Wood Mackenzie, Oberursel, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  26. Plastemart (2016) China leads in growth of polymers & plastic products. Plastemart, Mumbai, India. Scholar
  27. PlasticsEurope (2018) Plastics—the facts 2018: an analysis of European plastics production, demand and waste data. PlasticsEurope, Brussels, BelgiumGoogle Scholar
  28. PlasticsEurope (2019) European Plastic Industry Market Data.
  29. Rajaram S (2009) Plastic additives: the global market. PLS022B. BCC Research, Wellesley, MA, USAGoogle Scholar
  30. The Coca-Cola Company (2012) PlantBottle: Frequently Asked Questions.
  31. The Fiber Year (2017) The Fiber year 2017: world survey on Textiles & Nonwovens. The Fiber Year GmbH, Speicher, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  32. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2014) Municipal solid waste generation, recycling, and disposal in the United States: tables and figures for 2012. U.S. EPA, Washington, DC, USAGoogle Scholar
  33. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2018) Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2015 Fact sheet. EPA530-F-18-004. U.S. EPA, Washington, DC, USAGoogle Scholar
  34. Zalasiewicz J, Waters CN, Ivar do Sul JA et al (2016) The geological cycle of plastics and their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene. Anthropocene 13:4–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Zhan-feng M, Bing Z (2009) China plastics recycling industry. China Plastics 23:7Google Scholar
  36. Zink T, Geyer R (2018) Recycling and the myth of landfill diversion. J Ind Ecol 23:541. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bren School of Environmental Science and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

Personalised recommendations