People buried here
Alexander Parkes – the first plastics 1813 - 1890
The First Plastic – Parkesine
The display contains different plastic objects and creatures – some of them are made from recycled plastic. There is a cross made from Parkesine
This first man-made plastic was created by Alexander Parkes who is buried in West Norwood and publicly showed it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London
. The material called Parkesine was an organic material derived from cellulose that once heated could be moulded, and retained its shape when cooled. Parkes claimed this material could do anything that rubber could, but at a lower price. He had discovered something that could be transparent as well as carved into thousands of different shapes. Below are examples of different objects made from Parkesine.
For the first time, making luxury goods such as imitation ivory, fancy buttons, hairbrush and mirror frames and knife handles was not limited to the availability of rare or expensive materials. A new age of mass produced, affordable luxury had begun.
This plaque marks the site of the Parkesine factory on the corner of Wallis Rd and White Post Lane in Hackney Wick.
Parkesine was made from cellulose
, and treated with nitric acid and a solvent. Cellulose is the most common organic compound found on Earth. It comes from the green wall of plants, in algae and in some forms of bacteria as well. Cotton is 90% cellulose and wood is 50%. Nowadays cellulose is used to make materials such as paper and cardboard, rayon and the transparent wrapping cellophane. Unfortunately, the raw materials needed to make Parkesine proved too expensive, and after a couple of years Parkes had to close his factory. Other people took up the challenge of developing plastics. To find out more go to the Science Museum’s special exhibition Plasticity – 100 years of making plastics
The amount of plastic waste generated annually in the UK is estimated to be nearly 3 million tonnes. An estimated 56% of all plastics waste is used in packaging, three-quarters of which is from households. It is estimated that only 7% of total plastic waste arisings are currently being recycled.
The production and use of plastics has a range of environmental impacts. Plastics production requires significant quantities of resources, primarily fossil fuels, both as a raw material and to deliver energy for the manufacturing process. A study concluded that 1.8 tonnes of oil are saved for every tonne of recycled polythene produced.