Resources on Plastics in the Environment (June 2022)

This essay first appeared in the June 2022 issue of Choice (volume 59 | issue 10)


Although it was barely acknowledged a few decades ago, plastics pollution has emerged as one of the most important environmental issues of our time, due in part to the extraordinary increase in plastics production in recent years, but even more significantly because of the material’s resistance to degradation. Thanks to the internet it no longer takes a dictionary to learn that the word plastic can be traced to origins in classical languages: plastikos (Greek) and plasticus (Latin) both refer to the physical capability of something to be shaped or molded. Indeed, plastics are a class of moldable substances made up of polymers composed of very long chains (backbones) of repeating small units, known as monomers, typically consisting of carbon atoms with bonds to nitrogen or hydrogen atoms. Their durability, strength, light weight, ability to be molded, insolubility, and low production costs led to an enormous increase in production starting after World War II which continues to this day, making plastics the most common manufactured material in the world.

About the Author:

Margaret A. Manion, Librarian Emeritus, completed 32 years at University of Massachusetts, Lowell, where she most recently served the library as Head of Reference and Instruction specializing in science and engineering. Previously she was Head of the Chemistry and Biomedical Sciences Library at Northeastern University.