It’s hard for us to think back to the pre-plastic era, although it wasn’t so very long ago. Development of various plastics accelerated during the World War II years, pushed by shortages of some raw materials.

The first plastic that I remember was called celluloid. We had a hand soap dish with fitted top that cracked easily and didn’t last very long. The case of our mantel clock was aqua and cream celluloid and became warped out of shape in places, maybe because it sat too close to the heat from the fireplace. Yet, my grandmother’s celluloid face powder box still looks good as new; maybe it was better protected on the dresser.

Housing of the battery radio by which we listened to the Saturday night Grand Ole Opry at my grandparents’ house was made of wood. When electricity came in the 1940s and we bought our own radio, the cheapest case was plastic, so that’s what we had. A handle on the top made it easy to carry from room to room and plug in--until the handle cracked and was unsafe to trust.

Development of all kinds of plastics progressed rapidly. On a visit, my uncle brought to show us a lamp base made of clear Lucite, manufactured in the plant where he worked in the big city. My aunt gave my mother a set of plastic bowl covers with elastic around the edge for a perfect fit. How innovative! It was coming into its own.

Plastics appeared as handles on cooking pots, heat resistant shields on space missiles, woven into nylon fabric, and on and on. Look around you. Plastic has a prominent and significant place in our everyday lives. It’s everywhere.

Tubes of toothpaste and ointments are plastic not metal; plastic tubs rival wooden and cardboard (pasteboard, we called it) boxes in numbers; versatile plastics are now produced tough enough even for automobile bodies.

Environmental problems related to plastics that do not harmlessly disintegrate at their life’s end are a major concern for our planet today. We must change our ways, but it’s hard to give up see-through sheets that don’t break as glass does, machinery parts that don’t rust as iron, and shirts that don’t wrinkle as pure cotton when washed.

As I said, just look around. Plastics are often our preference, compared to natural materials. It’s likely that they are here to stay, at least for a while.