Plastic: America's Indispensable Cultural Icon

From 'The Graduate' to 'Mean Girls,' plastic has a pretty big place in popular culture.

Plastic: America's Indispensable Cultural Icon
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Plastic isn't usually considered the most exciting thing. But some people might argue the material is a cultural icon.

In 2012, experts from the Smithsonian Institution said we were living in the "Age of Plastic." From water bottles to grocery bags, plastic seems ideal because it's cheap, durable and disposable. Outside of consumer goods, plastic is also used in medical supplies.

But for all the good the material may have done, plastic has also become the modern symbol of wastefulnessEight million metric tons of it ends up in oceans each year. Those cutesy vintage plastic goods from the 20th century are now collecting dust in museums, and many people are cutting disposable plastics out of their lives.

Plastic water bottle on a beach

Ocean Plastic Could Triple By 2025

The ocean is littered with plastic, and a recent U.K. government report predicts it could get worse.


Earth Day's 2018 campaign is focused on ending plastic pollution by "changing human attitude and behavior about plastics." Efforts like this are important, as past research shows that cultural participation can help make environmental policies more effective.

Outside of policy, we can see the rise of this anti-plastic pollution culture through the growing popularity of tote bags and reusable water bottles. The rise may be more for fashion than environmentalism, but fashion is pretty lucrative. According to 2016 research, the reusable water bottle market is expected to rise to a valuation of more than $10 billion by 2024.