II. A Brief Jaunt through the Annals of Trash
III. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
IV. Rubber Fever
V. All Sizzle and One Break
VI. King Leo, the Iron-Hearted
VII. Gas Station Muffins
VIII. “Marcel...burn it down.”
X. A Sledgehammer for the Future
XI. An S.O.S. to the World
XII. “Who steals my trash steals my purse”
XIII. Further Reading
In 1909, the New York Times published perhaps it’s strangest headline of all time: “Here’s to C7H38O43.” The headline was neither the nuclear codes of the Russians, nor a song from Tommy Tutone’s B Sides, but rather the chemical composition of the most widely used substance in the world: synthetic plastic. The man who invented this first entirely synthetic plastic was a Belgian named Leo Hendrik Baekeland. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Or, perhaps, like three hundred twenty two million of your U.S. peers, you haven’t.
That Baekeland’s name is significantly less well-known than the likes of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison is perhaps all the more surprising in light of the fact that Baekeland was -- unlike Tommy Tutone -- no one-hit wonder. Earlier in his career, he’d sold an invention called Velox, a photosensitive paper, for nearly $40 million in today’s currency. But the fickle books of history are often written in ink invisible, and so Baekeland’s name smolders on, bubbling occasionally to the surface of an interesting think-piece that perfunctorily touches on the history of one of the most important substances in modern history. And also one of the most polarizing.
Because, although it took years for synthetic plastics to taxi down the runway of late nineteenth and early twentieth century history, their application took off like a 747 after World War II ended, a meteoric rise that made possible such everyday modern luxuries as out-of-season asparagus and advanced computing.
But in the last quarter of the twentieth century and on into the twenty-first, plastic’s proliferation and ease of manufacture began to exhibit worrying side-effects, not least of which is a nebulous floating amoeba of plastic colloquially referred to as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. But this isn’t just any garbage heap. The mass consists largely of plastic micro-particles barely visible to the naked eye, but whose aggregate size scientists estimate as between that of Texas and two times that of the United States. Many of these particles end up in the bellies of seafood that humans ultimately consume, thereby putting toxic chemicals into our bodies, often unbeknownst to us. The United Nations has even estimated that by 2050, the oceans may contain more weight in plastic than in fish.
In this chapter of Age of Ecology, we’ll explore the history, proliferation, and backlash against synthetic plastics, a surprisingly recent human invention. Along the way, we’ll touch on 1800s billiard halls, World War II military technology, Steve Jobs’ pet peeves, and the depths of the Pacific.
II. A Brief Jaunt through the Annals of Trash
Vast mountains of human-generated garbage are nothing new. Such garbage heaps have been around for thousands of years, spanning from the islands of Japan to the shores of Skidaway Island. The word for early garbage heaps, middens, derives from Scandinavian, and typically refers to a waste dump for bones, shells, and human excrement. Nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes and sedentary human communities generated such middens with equal aplomb. For archaeologists, middens are a treasure trove of artifacts that provide a glimpse into the diet and communal structures of, as well as climatic conditions affecting, populations of ancient humans. Some of the best middens can even preserve organic material, insulating such materials from degradation by the elements in an anaerobic bubble.
Although garbage heaps aren’t new, such ancient piles rarely grew beyond the tender size of a couple city blocks. One of the largest ancient trash piles discovered hails from Rome, Monte Testaccio, where 2nd Century administrators stacked 60 pound amphorae after emptying their olive oil into the state-controlled reserves that lubricated the Roman legions. Today, this ancient Roman spoil heap covers approximately 5 acres -- or roughly the size of a large college football stadium. (It’s also now a park.) But, by modern standards, a five-acre trash pile is a proverbial egg in the dumpster. Today, the largest landfill in the world covers a whopping 2,200 acres.
That’s nearly 3 times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park, and more than twice the size of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. And the location of this garbage juggernaut? A mere 22 miles northeast of Sin City itself, Las Vegas, Nevada. This Apex Regional landfill, as it’s called, contains so much trash that the methane it emits powers 10,000 households around the region. Perhaps fittingly, Apex Regional is a mere three-hour drive from Nevada’s Groom Lake, better known as the site of the U.S. Military’s unacknowledged Area 51 test site. (A former Staten Island landfill once clocked in at 2,200 acres as well. Like its Roman midden sibling, it’s now a park.)
III. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
But the Apex Regional landfill isn’t even the largest collection of waste in the world. That distinction goes to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that we touched on earlier. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or Pac Trash Patch, as it’s lovingly referred to by no one, is a misleading name for a nebulous mass of trash whose primary constituent is neither once-used water bottles nor empty bags that once contained corn-syrup-laden Frito Lay snacks, but rather tiny plastic filaments known as plastic micro-particles. As these micro-particles drift through the open waters, animals all along the ocean food chain ingest them.
But where, exactly, did all of these plastic micro-particles come from? Well, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither were modern trash piles. You see, most ancient trash consisted of objects that could be put to other uses. Food scraps could be fed to dogs and cats, wood scraps could be burned for fuel, glass could be used for other applications. Accordingly, it took centuries for humans to develop the types of long-tenured materials with no obvious reuses that could hang around for centuries.
IV. “Rubber Fever”
To arrive at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we must first travel to 1839, the year that American chemist Charles Goodyear developed entirely by accident a method to harvest and process the rubber that grew naturally on trees in the South American rainforest. The original inhabitants of the New World had been using rubber for years in such applications as balls for their ceremonial (read: sacrificial) Mesoamerican ballgame. European interlopers took note. In the late 1700s, a descendant of the Portuguese explorer Magellan created the first commercial, European application of rubber, using this natural polymer in an eraser. But rubber in its natural state was sticky and susceptible to heat and ice, hardly an ideal material from which to fashion everyday objects.
Charles Goodyear recognized rubber’s potential relatively early on and spent much of the 1830s -- a period low-key famous as the “rubber fever” -- experimenting with various methods to transform the stuff into a more durable material. Penniless much of his life, Goodyear’s crude laboratories ranged from a fourth-floor tenement bedroom to a frying pan laboratory he fashioned while in debtor’s prison. Obsessed with the material (and oft-penniless), he even once pawned off his children’s school books to finance his experiments.
After a breakthrough with the material came on the heels of his release from debtor’s prison, he convinced a New York businessman to advance him thousands of dollars and open a factory on Staten Island. Months later, the Panic of 1837 erupted, bankrupting the financier behind Goodyear’s rubber-goods company. The vacated financing forced Goodyear and his family to hole up in the now-abandoned rubber factory on Staten Island, not far from the site of the U.S.’ largest dump a century later. There on the grounds of that abandoned factory, like a becollared Suttree, Goodyear lived on fish he caught in the harbor.
His efforts found new life when he received an order by the United States Postal Service for 150 mail bags made of his rubber, which he was by then mixing with nitric acid for more durability. But such success was short-lived, as his bags melted around the mail they carried in the blistering summer months. And so the Pony Express became known to world as the Bologna Express. Goodyear’s will nearly broken, he made one, last-ditch effort to cauterize rubber, by mixing it with sulphur.
V. All Sizzle and One Break
One winter day in 1839 as icicles chimed from the branches like miniature glockenspiels, Goodyear brought this sulphurized mixture to the general store in Woburn, Massachusetts, where his family now lived. As patrons of the general store jeered at his substance, he became increasingly flustered. Finally, in a fit of exasperation, he waved his hands. The sulphurized rubber flew off his fingers, landed on the store’s griddle, and sizzled like steak. He scraped it off and discovered that the rubber had charred. Around the charred area was a dry, springy brown rim — or “gum elastic”, as it came to be known. It was entirely different than the rubbers he’d previously made. He couldn’t have known it then, but he had accidentally discovered the process of vulcanizing rubber, a technique still widely used today. (Other accounts contradict this melodramatic retelling, suggesting he simply spilled rubber and sulfur on a hot stove.)
Rubber and its natural cousin gutta percha would go on to play a crucial role in the early electrification of Europe, insulating electrical switches and protecting underwater telecommunications cables. And, of course, rubber today ensures the safe transportation of billions of people around the world in the form of tires, while simultaneously providing lodging for a single, suspiciously happy baby. Some historians celebrate Goodyear’s discovery of rubber vulcanization as one of history’s most monumental accidents.
Goodyear died in 1860, a mere fifty-nine years of age and $200,000 in debt. As one commentator with knowledge of Goodyear’s rubber obsession quipped: “If you meet a man who has on an India-rubber cap, stock, coat, vest and shoes, with an India-rubber money purse, without a cent of money in it, it is” Charles Goodyear.
Ohio entrepreneur and mustache-aficionado Frank Seiberling memorialized Goodyear’s name when he formed the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company at the turn of the 20th Century. Goodyear, as the company came to be called, predominantly provided tires for bikes and carriages until the automobile revolution swept the world in the early 1900s. By 1908, Henry Ford was, in fact, outfitting all of his Model Ts with Goodyear tires.
VI. King Leo, the Iron-Hearted
The rubber now came largely from Africa’s “Congo Free State” as a personal colony of that rapacious, Brian Posehn-lookalike, King Leopold II, who used the region’s wealth for personal enrichment. Years earlier, a Welshman by the name of Henry Stanley had traveled on the New York Herald’s dime to locate the famous explorer, David Livingstone. Livingstone had been missing for nearly six years in his quest to find the headwaters of the Nile. But Stanley, once a stowaway who’d fought for both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War, had a legacy to brand into the British canon that had largely ignored him to date. He spent over two years roving across rough terrain, hacking at thick, equatorial vines. He finally found Livingstone near the sandy shores of Lake Tanganyika in modern-day Tanzania.
Never shy of padding his coffers, Stanley soon signed a contract with Belgium’s King Leopold to establish forts throughout present-day Congo. With a ragtag band of Europeans and Africans, Stanley begged, borrowed, and stole the land out from under tribe after tribe. Leopold took it from there, giving direct orders to his Secretary of the Interior to organize an armed unit to police the region: the now-infamous Force Publique. The terror squad -- for that’s what it was in reality -- ruled over the natives with haunting ferocity, beating the Congolese laborers and cutting off their hands for missed quotas.
As the Force Publique’s brutal practices finally came to international light through such publications as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Mark Twain’s King Leopold’s Soliloquy, and the British government’s "Casement Report", Leopold agreed to transfer the colony to the Belgian Government. In a bold feat of courage (sparing the world the pain of the truth), Leopold ordered that every last record of his exploits in the region be put to the torch. The furnaces near his palace raged for over a week, wafting acrid smoke across the tops of Brussels’ turreted churches and stone apartments. "I will give them my Congo," Leopold is reported to have said, "but they have no right to know what I did there." But now, over a century later, a reader of Wikipedia sees all. (Of course, no substitute for Thomas Pakenham’s excellent book, The Scramble for Africa.)
VII. Gas Station Muffins
The same year that Leo had the evidence of his crimes against humanity incinerated, a Swiss engineer by the name of Jacques E. Brandenberger made an important breakthrough. That year, he unveiled his most famous invention: the clear, crackly-sounding cellophane that five-year-old gas station muffins still come in today (those corn-syrup sarcophagi). For years, the famed Stephen F. Whitman & Son company likewise used the material to protect the supple skin of its chocolates from the vagaries of daily life. Vagaries that Whitman enthusiast Forrest Gump knew all too well.
As with many inventions of the day, Brandenberger’s invention of cellophane was largely by accident. He was originally hoping to discover a method for wine-proofing table cloths. Cellophane was just another carbon in the long chain of polymer development that began with Goodyear’s vulcanised rubber. Perhaps one of the more famous materials in the intervening period between Goodyear’s rubber and Brandenberger’s cellophane was celluloid. Celluloid had come to life years earlier, less than a decade after one Charlie Darwin had taken the world by storm with his theory of evolution by natural selection.
English inventor Alexander Parkes displayed the early precursor to celluloid in 1862, humbly dubbed Parkesine, at the Great International Exhibition in London. Responding to an ad in a New York paper, American John Wesley Hyatt sought to find a synthetic substitute for the ivory used to make billiard balls. Hyatt combined nitrocellulose -- also called guncotton, due to its flammability -- with camphor, a substance from evergreens that smells like its most practical use would be embalming elephants. Yet Hyatt found that the resulting celluloid material was a malleable plastic. Within a few years, Kodak and a number of other photography companies had adopted celluloid as their main photography medium.
VIII. “Marcel...Burn it down.”
Around the time Hyatt began to spread celluloid, London completed construction of its major sewer system that would halt the city’s cholera outbreaks forever. Only recently had a beetle-browed Brit named John Snow discovered that cholera traveled by feces-infested water. Snow’s courage battling wipe-walkers earned him scant praise while alive. Even still, London became a pioneer in anti-cholera infrastructure. Cities in the United States followed suit throughout the late 1800s. Rarely one to play second-fiddle, plastic has emerged as a frontrunner to replace many of the iron pipes in U.S. cities that helped stem cholera’s advance over a century ago.
But before municipalities considered PVC for their pipes, the film industry adopted PVC’s ancient, flammable cousin, celluloid, as its medium of choice, around the turn of the 20th Century. Celluloid continued to host film until after World War II, when its extreme flammability led to the motion picture industry adopting “safety film”, made from the less-flammable cellulose triacetate. You may recall celluloid as the fuel that Shosanna Dreyfus used to burn the Fuhrer in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. The German role in World War II, of course, didn’t end quite so luridly as in Tarantino’s self-proclaimed masterpiece, but Tarantino did portray the extreme flammability of celluloid with much accuracy. Celluloid, then, was clearly not the wonder polymer that materials scientists had originally hoped. And so the quest for the Synthetic Holy Grail continued.
One of these questers was a countryman of the cruel King Leopold II, a Belgian-born scientist with a goatee abundant enough to be considered an entire chin orchestra. His name was Leo Arthur Baekeland. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Perhaps, like 7 billion other humans on the planet, you haven’t. After selling one of his first inventions Velox, a photosensitive paper, Baekeland built his own laboratory in Yonkers, New York, with the proceeds. He spent much of the first decade of the 20th Century perfecting a material made synthetically from a combination of formaldehyde and phenols, the same compounds that form the peaty taste in Scotch.
After years of meticulously controlling temperature and pressure applied to the two compounds, Baekeland, in 1907, finally discovered a hard yet malleable polymer, a sleek, minimalist material “as stripped down as a Hemingway sentence,” in the words of plastics writer Stephen Fenichell. In the heat of July that same year, Baekeland filed a process patent for this synthetic plastic, and received the final patent nearly two-and-a-half years later. A few months before his patent was issued, he addressed the New York chapter of the American Chemical Society with his findings, taking the science world by storm and prompting that strange New York Times headline that began this essay: C7H38O43.
Inventors and industrial manufacturers went on a tear, producing the DJ’s Delight vinyl in 1926, an early prototype of that frenemy of every household cook Saran Wrap in 1933, and the Andy Warhol special acrylic in 1936. As Susan Freinkel of Scientific American writes: “Plastics held out the promise of a new material and cultural democracy.”
Plastics provided substitutes in consumer goods for metal during the years of World War II, when aluminum, copper, and steel went to the war efforts. But plastics found themselves at the front line as well, used in everything from military vehicles to radar insulation. In the economic boom after the Axis Powers surrendered, synthetic plastics provided the basis for hundreds of consumer goods. They had replaced the ivory in billiard balls and the tortoise shell in combs. They had democratized entertainment, by forming the medium for films. In a twist, when one of the first film stars Irene Castle decided to cut her hair short and appeared on screen, the bob took the country by storm and put masses of comb factories out of business.
One comb factory adapted, though, retooling its assembly lines to make a novel new form of eyewear for people with bright futures: sunglasses. The company was Foster Grant, and today touts itself as The Original American Sunglasses Brand. Its darkened lenses soon appeared atop the chiseled cheeks of Raquel Welch, Peter Sellers, Mia Farrow. America never looked back. Even if it had, the past would have been too dim to make out.
X. A Sledgehammer for the Future
During the 1984 Super Bowl between the L.A. Raiders and Washington Redskins, just months after Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, a blond heroine ran past droning humans with a sledgehammer in hand. Our heroine hurled the hammer at a screen that showed an eerie, Dr. Strangelove-like narrator ensuring hundreds of human drones of a pain-free existence. (The scene unfolding on the screen was not unlike the monologue that German officials watched as Shoshanna burned down her cinema with celluloid film in Inglorious Basterds earlier this essay.) The heroine’s sledgehammer smashed into the screen and erupted in white light.
Scrolling text appeared, stating that, in January 1984, Apple would unveil its personal computer. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: The Macintosh. A voice like Oz announced that viewers would see why the year 1984 wouldn’t be like George Orwell’s book of the same name. The subtext was that Apple would free consumers from the chains of IBM conformity, who had been issuing personal computers with the ferocity of library cards since 1981.
The Macintosh boasted a robust Motorola 68000 processor and a gigantic 128 KB memory hard drive. To put that into perspective, the Nokia 3210 mobile phone that addicted the world to that masterpiece of graphics, Snake, had over 100 times the memory of the original Macintosh. But long before Snake, the original Mac included the first “killer application” for computers -- its MacPaint program that allowed everyday users to draw their own designs on-screen. Both the Macintosh and the Nokia phone relied on nothing less than synthetic plastic to protect their innards. Plastic’s use as a strong, durable casing was just one example of thousands of consumer products that hit the market after World War II made from the stuff.
But few people initially seemed to grasp the implications of millions of new goods coming on the market. Plastic’s ease of manufacture had lowered the price of these consumers goods, and its diversity of applications ensured that plastics began showing up in strange places, like toothpaste and cosmetics, with their plastic microbeads.
In 1988, just four years after Apple’s bold commercial, the U.S.’s National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration published a paper showing innumerable particles of trash amassed in the upper water column of the North Pacific, off the coasts of Japan and Alaska. These particles are low enough in density to be undetectable by satellite imagery and often small enough to be imperceptible to casual boaters. But they had infiltrated the water column like Whitey Bulger in the Boston Mafia of the 1980s.
More research throughout the 1990s showed that the majority of the refuse in this great floating ghost of garbage came from chemical sludge and from small plastic particles, such as those that peel off of polyester clothing and wash off of one’s face when using micro-beaded cosmetics. Today, these “microplastics”, as they’re called, inadvertently show up in our food, as well: in sea salt, as well as in the fish we eat, when plankton and small fish consume the microplastics and eventually end up in the stomachs of the fish that land on our plates.
Perhaps in part because of this, that original scion of the accessible PC, Steve Jobs, boarded the anti-plastic bandwagon in his later years. Beginning in the early 2000s, Jobs and his lieutenant of design, Jony Ive, moved Apple computers away from those brightly colored Froot Loops cases the size of tiny rhinos that had resurrected Apple’s fortunes. In place of these hulking plastic carcasses, Apple installed all-metal casings on their desktops and laptops.
Originally reserved for Apple’s high-end G4 notebook line, in 2008, all MacBook Pros began to receive metal, shoe-resistant armor. Jobs touted Apple’s redesigned MacBooks as the greenest notebooks in the industry. It was a fitting pronouncement from a man who, a year earlier, had penned an open letter pledging to revamp Apple’s environmental policies to make them greener. In the letter, he couldn’t help but let his scorn for his rivals’ plastic-containing products spill onto the page like molten aluminum.
XI. An S.O.S. to the World
But while we were fixated on the environmental policies of a few titans of industry, a more pernicious use of plastics multiplied like clover-fed rabbits: single-use plastic water bottles. Bottled water has a surprisingly long and colorful history, beginning in 17th Century Britain with the Holy Well, when an enterprising entrepreneur bottled the well’s spring water for its reputed healing properties. Bottled water in America first saw life before the Revolutionary War, when Jackson’s Spa in Massachusetts bottled water from its mineral spring to take advantage of interest in water therapy at the time.
Imitators were not far behind, receiving patents for “imitation” mineral water -- in essence, today’s club soda -- as early as 1809. Such bottled water became particularly important as a safer alternative to urban water supplies, those same water supplies that distributed cholera like $3 off coupons throughout the 19th Century. As municipalities modernized their water supplies -- often with the help of everyone’s favorite hair exterminator, chlorine -- the popularity of bottled water declined in the U.S.
Then, in 1977, the French company Perrier launched a successful ad campaign that had Americans once again drinking out of the palms of their own hands. (It perhaps comes as no surprise that Perrier’s CEO hinted at the product’s “non-fattening” properties.)
But even at this late date, all of the water that had been bottled through the centuries had been bottled in glass, with many of the bottles reused for other purposes. It wasn’t until 1973 that plastic technology advanced enough that bottles made from it could withstand the pressure of carbonation. With the advent of this polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, soft drinks found their ideal host. With the lighter plastic bottles, transporting soft drinks became cheaper. Sparkling mineral water, like its brasher carbonated soda cousins, found their stride. But it was still mainly sparkling water.
Bottled still water didn’t gain momentum until the 2000s, when companies like Brita fueled the demand with such ad campaigns as the memorable, if not hyperbolic, “tap and toilet water come from the same source. Don't you deserve better?” Companies stratified themselves into all sorts of niches: Fiji went upmarket with bottles costing $5 or more, Dasani touted its mineral content, a company called Tap’d even bottled New York City water and advertised the fact. Bottled water became so popular that researchers in 2006 estimated demand required the energy equivalent of more than one million cars on the road. And while recycling initiatives have shown progress, a worrying number of these bottles end up in landfills and oceans. There, they can take hundreds of years to disintegrate, a process that can also release toxins.
The bottles that end up in the ocean, along with the micro plastics we touched on earlier, impact an ocean ecosystem whose many niches are often more fragile than even Don King’s hair. Add in the plastic soda rings left uncut, plastic straw,s and fishing nets, traps, and pots that routinely get discarded every year, and you end up with a strange phenomenon known as “ghostfishing”, in which marine animals become entangled in these relics of human ingenuity and slowly suffocate. All of these examples, and so many more, provide clear evidence of a problem.
XII. “Who steals my trash steals my purse”
But as with most challenges related to our environment, the technological innovation -- in this case, synthetic plastic -- is not the problem, per se. Plastics have, after all, fueled the computing, health, food-preservation, and consumer-safety revolutions. Rather, the root of the problem is a lack of knowledge about the environmental issues that synthetic plastics create. Regulatory bodies like the EPA have taken measures to address the problem, and President Obama signed the Microbeads Free Act in 2015, prohibiting the sale of rinse-off cosmetics that contain plastic microbeads, those particles we discussed earlier that ultimately end up in the fish we eat. (The law fully takes effect July 1, 2019.)
But in this age of regulatory capture, we can’t rely on government bodies alone to tackle the problem. We must take responsibility ourselves for the items we consume and the trash we create. Fortunately, many people have taken the problem to heart and have already modified their lifestyles to use items longer before replacing them, to buy used items, and to rely less on one-use plastics. For example, by bringing a metal water bottle with them on trips. In Shakespeare’s Othello, the status-obsessed Iago, with his tongue of dusk, famously hissed: “who steals my trash steals my purse”. In today’s day and age, we appear to be living in a society more akin to “who steals my purse, steals trash”. Spend less of your purse on items destined for the trash, and the world -- for which we are mere gardeners -- will rejoice.
XII. Further Reading
https://livegreen.recyclebank.com/because-you-asked-should-i-choose-plastic-aluminum-or-glass-bottles (On the environmental impacts of plastics)
https://www.chemheritage.org/who-we-are (For a relatively pro-plastics look at the history of plastic)
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27442625; https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-plastics-1992322 (On the history of plastics)
http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/largest-landfills-waste-sites-and-trash-dumps-in-the-world.html (On the world’s largest dumps, and the methane produced by the Apex facility)
https://rainforests.mongabay.com/10rubber.htm; http://www.iisrp.com/WebPolymers/00Rubber_Intro.pdf (On the history of rubber)
https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/ (On the Great Pacific Garbage Patch)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/11650703/Roman-rubbish-dump-reveals-secrets-of-ancient-trading-networks.html (On Monto Tracciano, Rome’s ancient spoil heap)
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-brief-history-of-plastic-world-conquest/ (A history of plastics)
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/08/sea-salt-around-world-contaminated-by-plastic-studies; http://www.pnas.org/content/111/28/10239.full (On plastic contamination of (1) sea salt; (2) fish)
http://appleinsider.com/articles/08/10/14/apple_details_new_macbook_manufacturing_process; http://appleinsider.com/articles/11/03/26/apples_aluminum_strategy_aids_shift_to_greener_products_report; https://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/01/the-evolution-of-apple-design-between-1977-2008/ (On the evolution of Apple’s computer designs)
http://appleinsider.com/articles/07/05/02/steve_jobs_unveils_changes_to_apples_environmental_policy.html (On Apple’s environmental policies)
https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-114hr1321enr/pdf/BILLS-114hr1321enr.pdf (On Obama’s signing of Microbeads free act)
http://www.thekitchn.com/a-brief-history-of-bottled-water-228642 (On the history of bottled water)