II.

In the mid-19th century
lots of people started playing billiards. This boom was ignited by Michael Phelan, an Irish immigrant who came up with both technical tweaks—adding diamonds to the table to help in aiming—and a series of competitions that stoked interest.
II.

In the mid-19th century
lots of people started playing billiards. This boom was ignited by Michael Phelan, an Irish immigrant who came up with both technical tweaks—adding diamonds to the table to help in aiming—and a series of competitions that stoked interest.
In 1907 Leo Baekeland, an inventor in Yonkers, New York, made, in his laboratory a “solidified matter yellowish and hard.”

In his notebook, the next morning, Baekeland wrote: “this looks promising.”

This new substance, which he called “Bakelite” would change the world.
It was the first synthetic plastic: a mix of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that could, like celluloid, be remolded into just about any shape. It was rare—a luxury. Coco Chanel made it into jewelry.

Meanwhile, in Germany, a chemist named Hans von Pechmann accidentally created polyethylene, which is today the world’s most common plastic. Pechmann stumbled across it while researching dangerous gases.
IV.

NY/NJ Baykeeper
trawls around New York Harbor to study and quantify the rogue plastic. They leave from Keyport, NJ, a small town tucked into the southwest corner of the harbor. Keyport used to be a major oyster-producing town, until pollution and overfishing led to troubles for that industry half a century ago.
IV.

NY/NJ Baykeeper
trawls around New York Harbor to study and quantify the rogue plastic . They leave from Keyport, NJ, a small town tucked into the southwest corner of the harbor. Keyport used to be a major oyster-producing town, until pollution and overfishing led to troubles for that industry half a century ago.
Chris Jordan
The tiny stuff, known as microplastic, is problematic since it’s easily mistaken by fish and birds for food, and can cause digestive-tract damage and starvation when ingested, and can tangle birds and fish up.
Plastic can also absorb toxins present in water. Many of these toxins would break down naturally if not for the plastics that absorb and protect them. Fish sometimes eat the toxic-containing plastics.
V.

It’s very difficult for us to get away from plastic in the modern world


—but it is possible to minimize, or, with heroic effort, even eliminate—our use of disposable plastics. Many of the changes need to come from adjusting our lifestyles. Some of the changes are regulatory.
Text and Reportage by Konstantin Kakaes.
Footage and Stills by Barbie Leung.

Direction, Design, and Interaction by Primer Stories.

Facebook Messenger integration by Groundsource.

This paid reporting was made possible by the generous support of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

All images, besides those indicated, are created in-house or are creative commons images. Any questions about image rights should be directed towards info@primerstories.com