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Plastic Fantastic!

Join Mark Miodownik, our project lead and director of UCL's Institute of Making, to reinvigorate your relationship with plastics. The evening talk is part of the Institute's Festival of Stuff, 1–6 July 2019.

It may seem completely normal to buy a cup of coffee, drink it, and throw the cup away. But it was not always normal. In fact, for most of our history it would have been seen as a sign of madness. Materials were expensive, cups were valuable, and to throw something away after only one use was the road to poverty and ruin. So how did disposable products ever become a thing? The answer is that we had to be taught to like throwing things away, to accept it as normal. The story of how this happened is the story of twentieth-century capitalism; yes, of our liberation and wealth, but also of a growing environmental catastrophe.

The villain in the story is, of course, plastic. This is sad, not only because plastic is an extremely useful and valuable material, but also because at the beginning of the twentieth century, plastic brought us modernity. The telephone, the radio, and the TV all came into our lives as marvellous plastic stuff. More plastics followed, changing the way we lived in almost every way, from footwear to furniture, from stockings to tennis racquets. Indeed, in a 1940s poll, “cellophane” was rated the third most beautiful word in the English language.

The answer isn’t to ban plastics. They are massively useful, not least in our homes, hospitals, and transport systems. The way forward is for us to engage more with plastics, to build trust in, and a love of plastics again. It is only by understanding that they are indispensable, and relearning how to value them, that we will summon the political will to end the era of disposability.

To learn more or to book tickets please visit: https://www.instituteofmaking....

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