Re-Thinking our Relationship with Plastic Today  

In 1907, my Great-Great Grandfather, Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian Chemist and Entrepreneur, created the first fully synthetic polymer made entirely of molecules that could not be found in nature. He named it Bakelite. “With the product’s invention, the Bakelite Corporation boasted, humans had transcended the classic taxonomies of the natural world: the animal, mineral, and vegetable kingdoms. Now we had “a fourth kingdom, whose boundaries are unlimited.” (Freinkel, “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story”). Coined “The Father of Plastic,” his discovery opened the door for countless innovations that marked the beginning of the Modern Industrial Age and the beginning of an unimaginable future for Plastics.

Baekeland is my middle name. I carry his ingenuity, discoveries and accomplishments with me. It goes without saying that there are thousands of uses for plastic that have improved life, saved lives, and supported critical advancements we’ve made as a people.

I also carry the weight of what we have allowed Single-Use-Plastics to become: a material that we consume, use for a few moments, and throw away. We seldom consider that these disposables never truly go away. It was as if Baekeland had a portal to the future, claiming plastic’s boundaries as “unlimited.” But I don’t think that he ever could have imagined our single-use plastic habit as it exists today - a senseless, suffocating agent of permanent waste that poisons our waters, kills marine life, adversely affects our health, contributes to Climate Change, and breaks down into the ever-present infiltrating micro-plastics that plague us now.

It’s our responsibility, now, to re-think Single-Use Plastics. On a Macro level, it is time to create systems and infrastructure that support sustainability. It is time to develop new, truly biodegradable alternatives. It is time for corporate entities to be on the “right side” of science. But as individuals, as mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, we simply cannot wait for institutions, corporations, or scientific laboratories to solve our Plastic Problem. Its ours. Its in our daily choices, our habits, our addiction to convenience. No one else is going to do this for us.

This is my ancestral calling, and I have to believe that Baekeland approves.

~ Hilary Baekeland Drake