The history of plastics: from the Capitol to the Tarpeian Rock

By Philippe Chalmin Professor,
Paris-Dauphine University

Few industries like plastic have experienced similar growth in the space of 60 years, both in terms of production tonnage and use in virtually every moment of our daily lives.

However, plastic is now victim of its own success. Waste is piling up, collection struggles to keep up, recycling is costly… With everyone pointing a finger at it, plastic is more than ever at the center of society’s debates.

While people in the most developed countries are now clearly aware of the problem, in emerging and developing economies this awareness is hampered by problems of urban governance attributable to the rampant population growth in the megacities.

Plastic has unwittingly become a symbol of the crisis of our postmodern society and one of the major challenges of the 21st century - albeit far from the only one. These problems need to be addressed pragmatically, with our eyes wide open, and without any illusion that we can achieve a plastic-free world.