Updated: Jan 26
The history of plastic is a fascinating and complex one, spanning over a century of human innovation and experimentation. From its earliest days as a novel material used primarily for industrial and military applications, plastic has grown to become a ubiquitous and essential part of our daily lives.
The origins of plastic can be traced back to the early 19th century, when scientists and inventors began experimenting with new ways to create synthetic materials. One of the first breakthroughs came in 1839, when Belgian-born American inventor John Wesley Hyatt discovered that he could create a substance similar to natural rubber by heating and compressing cellulose. This new material, which he called "Celluloid," was the first truly synthetic plastic.
Over the next few decades, scientists and inventors continued to experiment with new plastic materials, including phenol formaldehyde (Bakelite) in 1907, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in 1913, and polyethylene in 1933. These new plastics were used primarily for industrial applications, such as electrical insulation and machinery parts.
It was not until the 1950s and 1960s that plastic truly began to infiltrate our everyday lives. The invention of new, more versatile plastics like polypropylene and polystyrene, as well as the development of new manufacturing techniques, made it possible to create a wide variety of consumer goods, including toys, packaging, and household items.
Today, plastic is used in nearly every aspect of our lives, from the cars we drive to the food we eat. But as our reliance on plastic has grown, so too has our awareness of the environmental problems caused by plastic waste. In response, scientists and innovators have developed new types of plastic that are designed to be more environmentally friendly.
Oxo-degradable plastic is a type of plastic that is designed to break down into smaller pieces when exposed to the elements, such as sunlight and heat. The idea behind this type of plastic was that it would eventually degrade into small enough pieces that it would no longer be a problem for the environment. They were wrong. The truth is that any amount of plastic can be problematic for the environment. When oxo-degradable plastic breaks down, it does not break down into organic materials, but rather into smaller particles of plastic known as microplastics.
Microplastics are a major environmental problem because they can be easily ingested by marine life and other animals causing injury or death. These microplastics can accumulate in the animals' stomachs transferring pollutants and toxins from the plastic to the animals. In addition to harming animal life, microplastics also damage the environment. They can cause physical damage to habitats and can accumulate in large amounts in certain areas, threatening biodiversity. Due to their tiny size, it becomes difficult to remove them from the environment and they can persist for long periods of time, making the problem of microplastics a persistent and pressing one.
It was clear to scientists and innovators that something better needed to be created to address the systemic effects of plastics and microplastics on the environment. In steps plant-based biofilm. The idea behind plant-based biofilm is that it is made from natural materials such as potato starch, cellulose, and other plant-based materials. These types of plastics are designed to be biodegradable, meaning they will break down into organic materials that can safely reintegrate back into the environment.
One of the most important beliefs we have as an organization is that we solve problems without contributing to existing ones. We know the systemic issues caused by single-use plastics and refuse to be a contributing factor. This is why we’ve always used plant-based biofilm for our disposal bags despite the fact that it’s eight to ten times more expensive than traditional and oxo-degradable plastics. In order to not impact food supply, the potatoes we use for our disposal bags come from waste potatoes not grown for biofilm. At MaskIT, we believe in principle over profit and aren’t afraid to be the change we want to see in the world. The resin we use to make our plant-based biofilm is ASTM D6400 compliant which means it meets or exceeds these three qualification standards:
Less than 10% of test material remains on 2mm sieve
Controlled compost conditions at thermophilic conditions (135°F / 58°C) as defined in ASTM D5338 & ISO 16929 test methods.
Time: 12 weeks or less (84 days)
Mineralization / Inherent Biodegradation:
90% Conversion to carbon dioxide, water & biomass via microbial assimilation
ASTM D5338 – defines test method used
Time: 180 days or less (the same rate as natural materials – leaves, paper, grass, and food scraps)
No impacts on plant growth, using OECD Guide 208.
Regulated (heavy) metals less than 50% of EPA prescribed threshold
The history of plastic has been a fascinating and ever-evolving one, and has had a significant impact on our daily lives. However, as our reliance on plastic has grown, so too has our awareness of the environmental problems caused by plastic waste. To address these issues, scientists and innovators have developed new materials that are designed to be more environmentally friendly like plant-based biofilms.