From food packaging, to contact lenses and credit cards, plastic is used in almost every aspect of daily life. How did it become such a ubiquitous material in just a few decades?
In her 2015 book Plastic Water, about the rise of bottled water, Professor Gay Hawkins, at Western Sydney University’s Institute for Culture and Society, investigated the history of plastic packaging and how it has transformed food production, markets and waste streams. Her insights highlight how to develop better strategies for managing plastic waste and reduce our reliance on plastic packaging.
“Like the Iron Age and Bronze Age, the 20th century can be thought of as the Plastics Age,” says Hawkins. “It’s the material that has defined our culture.”
While much research on plastics focusses on documenting and managing its environmental impacts, Hawkins is exploring how plastic became a normal part of everyday life and the factors that shaped our reliance on it.
“Plastic has had an unbelievably profound impact on how we live — and our environment,” says Hawkins. “I wanted to understand how it became so popular and the impacts of this new material culture.”
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