The world’s first completely synthetic plastic, bakelite, was invented at the turn of the twentieth century by Leo Baekeland. He is also responsible for coining the term plastic itself, a term used to refer to a variety of different compounds and polymers known for just how flexible and easily molded they are. Over the past century, plastics have become more and more widely popularized throughout the world, and mankind’s rates of production and consumption of plastic products have surpassed that of anything else comparable to these compounds. Plastics are not only inexpensive to make and unable to be damaged by water, but also degrade at an incredibly low rate. For these qualities, and many more, they have replaced for the most part any natural substance wood or stone, and are used nigh ubiquitously in every aspect of human life.
Plastic products are used for essentially any purpose imaginable, including everything from medical devices to construction to the aerospace industry. In more economically developed nations, about a third of all plastic is used in packaging, and another third is used for the construction industry. The remaining third is used for every other aspect of modern life. As a result of the truly absurd amounts of plastic being used for literally every thing you might need, there is a large amount of plastic waste that must be dealt with. Because most plastics are fairly durable and degrade at an incredibly slow rate, almost all of the plastic the human race has ever produced is simply lying around as trash that unless recycled, will stick around for potentially thousands of years.
The vast majority of all of the plastic waste that we have produced as a species is in the ocean; the amount of plastic waste currently found in the water and the rate at which that amount continues to grow are truly shocking. It has been estimated that every year, we dump approximately eight million metric tons of plastic waste into the ocean. By 2025, that number will likely more than double. The average plastic water bottle takes about five hundred years to biodegrade after being discarded, and a significant percentage of the plastic waste being produced can take approximately ten thousand years to do the same. All of this plastic is going to sit in the ocean for centuries unless humanity finds a way to clean up the mess we have made. It is estimated that about one hundred thousand marine mammals die due to plastic pollution every year, and that figure does not include birds or fishes. When they are taken into account, the numbers rise into the millions. The effects that plastic pollution will have, and likely already has had, on the health of literally each and every animal in the food chain have yet to be understood or studied sufficiently to make any declarative statements about the effects on humans with a large degree of certainty. However, it is safe to assume that the negative health impacts will plague humanity for millennia to come.