Like its nuclear sibling The Atomic Age, The Plastic Age was untarnished, from its Bakelite prehistory to the ripping yarn of Nylons, we couldn't get enough of the stuff. All that glitters was displaced with polymers, we felled the trees and turned to the primordial soup to render everything from toothbrushes to cars in polymers of every description. It was a wondrous age with chemists brewing up new, functional polymers for decades and materials scientists and engineers finding ways to cross-link them into the very fabric of society.

Today, sadly, plastic more commonly means a fake and waste. We fill our landfills with the stuff. Despite the best efforts of many consumers to recycle, plastic bags are raised up every stretch of barbed wire on industrial parks across the globe like revolutionary flags of surrender, fast-food clamshells pearl our city streets with their everlasting foamy forms, and fragments of plastic are wending their way through the food chain as fish assimilate minute shards from their marine environment. We even hear of a mythological Pacific island composed entirely of polymeric detritus, although it has no inhabitants, offers no safe harbour and shows on no satellite images, it is no myth to imagine that we are not only filling the land, but the oceans too, with our plastic waste.

There is hope. Ever more sophisticated recycling plants use spectroscopy and air jets to separate the myriad plastics in shredded form while whole sub-industries exist in some parts of the world where  thousands of workers mine filth for specks of polymeric value alongside the metal strippers and menders.

There has been rehashed economic dieback for several years now.
Nevertheless, we still generate plastic waste in vast tonnages, the half life of these materials on a par with deadly radioisotopes and often as hazardous. The waste is not wasted though, the plastics will not decay in a generation's time, we will through absolute necessity start mining old landfills for their plastic ore as supplies of oily feedstocks dwindle and we grow increasingly reluctant to farm the land for materials rather than food.

The Plastic Age wrought much of the modern world, without those materials there would be little of the infrastructure that allows us to enjoy electrical and gaseous power supply 24/7 , to wrap up warm in puffed polymer jackets on a winter's day or to take a flight to balmier climes to wear gaudy polyester shirts. Intriguingly, "fake" plastic products have become synonymous with cheap and low quality.

However, we seem to have grown increasingly fond of plastics in certain contexts whether the energy-efficient body of the latest smart car or the curvaceous lines of that new gadget. And ever intriguing in some quarters are those Nylons, that leggy standby of wartime tea dances from the dawn of the Age of Plastic when telephones were heavy enough to build your biceps and gorilla glass was kids squashed their faces up against at London Zoo to watch the antics of fellow primates. We are the plastic ape.

David Bradley blogs at and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".