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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 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bronson Arcuri is a video producer at NPR, where he directs the "Planet Money Shorts" video series and helps out with Tiny Desk Concerts from time to time. He also produced "Elise Tries" and "Ron's Office Hours" along with the "Junior Bugler" series, which he still insists was "pretty good for what it was."