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Nation & World

How Everything Became Plastic

A century ago, stuff was expensive. Back then, people relied on nature to make things: Toothbrushes were made of silver, combs were made of tortoiseshell, and clothes were made of cotton (well, they still use a lot of cotton, but you get the point.)

Then, in 1907, a chemist named Leo Baekeland found a way to take the useless gunk leftover from making kerosene and turn it into plastic. It opened up a whole world of affordable products. Suddenly, everyone could get one of everything.

This is the story of how plastic was first made and how maybe we went too far with it.

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episode here. Subscribe to our video series here — and, while you're at it, subscribe to our podcast.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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