The plastics journey: Where are we now?

8 November 2018 by Carla Yorukoglu

While plastics have many benefits, plastic waste is a serious form of pollution, particularly in our oceans. Here we take a look at the history of plastics and where we are now.



Bakelite, the first mass produced synthetic plastic invented.

Make-up applicator


Polyester, PVC, polythene and nylon invented.


First record of wildlife ingesting plastic debris.



First scientific report of plastic litter in the ocean. Also first scientific report shows that plastic pellets, found in the ocean, have absorbed toxic chemicals from surrounding seawater.


First recordings of plastic litter on the seabed 180m to 400m down.


Widespread use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics begins.


The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' discovered. In March 2018, the patch was an estimated three times the size of France.


90% of deep-sea litter is made of plastic.

Bangladesh becomes the first country to ban plastic bags.


Term 'microplastic' first used in scientific paper to describe pieces of plastic under 5mm in marine sediments.


Wales brings in 5p plastic bag charge.

No plastic bags sign


Zooplankton found to eat microplastics, making their carbon-rich poo float rather than sink to the sea floor.

Northern Ireland brings in 5p plastic bag charge.


Scotland brings in 5p plastic bag charge.

England brings in 5p plastic bag charge. The policy featured references to NERC-funded research.


UK government pledges to ban microbeads.

First evidence of deep-sea animals eating microplastics.

UK retailers use 83% less plastic bags since 5p plastic bag tax.

40% reduction in plastic bags found on UK beaches.

Whale eating plastic


Study shows the extent of microplastics in freshwater sediments, which are primarily made up of road-surface marking paints and microfibers from clothing.

Blue Planet II released, featuring NERC-funded research.


UK government brings in microbead ban, a policy which featured NERC-funded research.

In the 25 Year Environmental Plan, the UK government commits to zero 'avoidable' plastic waste by 2042.

UK government holds consultation on single-use plastic tax and announces consultation on plastic bottle recycling scheme.

UK Research & Innovation launches £20 million Plastics & Research Innovation Fund.

The future: Understanding plastic pollution gets us closer to solutions.

JoggerHunt for nurdles

Going to the beach? Look out for these tiny plastic pellets and report your sightings - external link -.

Be a plogger

Clean up your community and keep fit - join the new plogging trend and pick up litter while you jog.

To find out more about plastics research and innovation, read about tackling the plastics problem - external link - on the UKRI website.