For the first 50 years after plastic was invented, the idea of only using the long-lasting material once was blasphemous, an affront to values of frugality honed over years of war and economic strife.
Then, in the late 1950s, the plastics industry launched a massive marketing campaign — and single-use plastic was born.
“The happy day has arrived when nobody any longer considers plastic packages too good to throw away,” Lloyd Stouffer said at the 1963 U.S. National Plastic Conference. Stouffer was a U.S. plastics marketing guru and the man who, in 1956, first pitched the idea that a virtually indestructible material — plastic — should be sold as disposable.
Since then, about 8.3 billion tonnes have been produced; most has been thrown out. Landfills are stuffed. Oceans and the animals in them are choked. Plastic particles are even showing up in human placentas, with unknown health impacts. Plastic is everywhere: Manhattan, the Marianas Trench, even Mars.