TU Delft lecturer Angeniet Kam regularly walks around the campus armed with a reaching tool (delta.tudelft.nl/28159). She is looking for plastic waste that is lying around. She was motivated by a video of young albatrosses with plastic bottle caps in their stomachs. In what has been called ‘the Age of Plastics’, our everyday lives would be inconceivable without this material.
The first plastic to be manufactured by humans was produced in the 19th century by the British inventor Alexander Parkes. It was called Parkesine. This nitrocellulose-based plastic was introduced at the 1862 International Exhibition in London, where it won a prize. Engineers at TU Delft have been developing plastics since the 1930s, according to the archives of the TU Delft Library.
In addition to convenience, the explosion in the number of applications has also led to an increasing amount of plastic waste in landfills and in the ocean. Recycling is a fruitful strategy for reducing this mountain of waste. The Netherlands recycles more than half of its plastic packaging, making it a leader in Europe. Because the demand for plastics is unlikely to decrease rapidly, it would pay to become smarter in their production (e.g. using bacteria from wastewater) and use (by integrating plastics with electronics). In this issue of Delft Integraal, we explore the future of this smart material.
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