About the PLASTICS Industry Association

plastic pellets
About the Association History of the Plastics Industry

Our Mission

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) is a purpose-driven organization that supports the entire plastics supply chain.

  • We work to make our members and the industry more globally competitive.
  • We advance sustainability and strive to keep plastic out of our environment and in the circular economy.
  • We promote plastics manufacturing as a viable career option.
  • We provide education about plastics to both the industry and the public.
  • We support technology-driven innovation to solve problems.
  • We work to change public perceptions about plastics and show how they impact our lives for the better.
  • We understand what’s important to our members’ businesses and advocate on their behalf to enact sustainable policies and create sustainable business growth for the industry.

Our councils, committees and events such as our signature global tradeshow NPE®, bring the boldest and brightest innovators, influencers and new technologies together to create connections, expand business growth and showcase our industry.  

From the technological advancements we enable to the possibilities we create, we’re dedicated to helping our members shape the future and make a positive impact every day.  


plastics worker in hardhat

Our Priorities

Building from our strategic plan, PLASTICS focuses our efforts around four key priorities:


We advance the legislative and regulatory priorities across all levels of advocacy: international, federal, state, and local.


We proactively tell the plastics industry’s stories through traditional and social media, promote plastics as the material of choice, and provide real-time responses to today’s rapid news cycle.


Bringing the industry together to advance the industry is a core priority. From committee meetings to industry events, we monitor market trends, spearhead projects, and lead programs to showcase to support the entire supply chain.


We’re passionate about helping members set and reach industry-leading environmental goals. Together, with our members, we can make sustainability dreams a reality. 

Why Plastics

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) is the only association that supports the entire plastics supply chain. Founded in 1937, we have a track record of fostering collaboration between each industry segment and evolving alongside the plastics industry as a whole.

With the increased attention on plastics, we are here to connect companies in this industry and encourage innovation to meet the needs of tomorrow. We’ve expanded the resources and tools available to members, to help us come together and help positively shape the industry’s future. 

Join us to protect, promote, and grow the plastics industry.

Become a Member
plastic sheets

History of Plastics

It was in 1862 that Alexander Parkes introduced the world’s first-ever man-made plastic, at the London International Exhibition. “Parkesine,” as it was called, was marketed as an alternative to ivory and horn that Parks discovered while trying to develop a synthetic substitute for shellac for waterproofing.

Though the product was not a commercial success, Parkesine represented an important first step in the development of man-made plastic. The material didn’t start to truly show its potential value and diversity of applications until John Wesley Hyatt in Albany, New York discovered a way to manufacture an improved version of Parkesine, most commonly known as celluloid.

Read on to see more important dates in plastics’ rich history:

old radio
1907 – Bakelite

While Parkesine was created from organic compounds, specifically cellulose, Dr. Leo Bakeland created the world’s first entirely synthetic plastic called Bakelite. This marks the start of the modern plastics industry.

Hermann Staudinger proved the existence of what we know today as polymers in 1920. Plastics are just one subset of polymers, a broad term that can be used to describe any plastic as well as several other naturally-occurring organic compounds. Even our own DNA are polymers.

A staggering number of plastic and chemical innovations emerged in the period surrounding World War II.

  • Polyethylene (PE) was created in England in 1933 and was a closely held state secret, as the lightweight plastic was used to insulate radar cabling, sufficiently lightening them to be placed on airplanes and giving Britain’s planes a significant advantage against the Germans’.
  • Polystyrene (PS) was created first as an alternative to die-cast zinc, but quickly became a replacement for rubber in the copolymer of polystyrene and butadiene: styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR).
  • Nylon, which DuPont released for sale as synthetic silk hosiery in 1939 to much fanfare, was quickly rationed by the U.S. military for use in parachutes and ropes.
  • A Dow chemist created expanded polystyrene (EPS) by accident in 1941 and the sturdy lightweight plastic became a useful thermal insulator and shock-absorber.
  • Plastics manufacturers turned to making consumer products as an outlet for the materials they developed in the war. Polyester was introduced in the 1950s, and polypropylene, today one of the most used polymers in the world, got its start as a commodity in 1954, becoming a very useful polymer due to its adaptability.
  • High-density PE (HDPE), today most commonly used to make plastic milk jugs, was developed during this period as well. Its origins demonstrated the creativity of some of this era’s great plastics innovators.
  • While initially showing great promise in creating sturdy chemical-resistant plastic products like bottles, tubing and pipes, HDPE’s future was precarious right out of the gate as initial production lots were not as consistent as the samples made in the lab. Warehouses filled with unsold, off-specification HDPE until the hula-hoop craze of the late 1950s required such huge amounts of plastic that demand for the toys consumed six months of the early HDPE production. This kept the manufacturers in business until they had time to resolve their issues with the material and make it more reliable in applications other than hula hoops.
  • The polysulfone family of thermoplastics, introduced in 1965, were most visibly used on the gold-film visors of Apollo-era space suits.
  • Para-aramid synthetic fiber, more commonly known as Kevlar, was also introduced in 1965 and was first used in the racing industry to replace steel in racing tires, although it has since found many other modern uses as well, most notably in bulletproof vests.
  • Oil embargoes drove consumers and companies to refocus on biobased and biodegradable plastics in the 1970s, in the interest of both environmental conservation and economic necessity.
  • The bioplastics of the late 1980s and early 1990s were a direct response to these concerns, but, much like the rubber fad of the 1830s, the excitement surrounding them was dampened when the products failed to meet consumer expectations.
  • Research and development continued and bioplastics as a class have resurged in production and availability to meet consumers and brand owners’ renewed interest in sustainable polymer options.
  • Today, plastics are renowned for their sustainability, strength and design flexibility, finding unique and innovative applications in sectors ranging from healthcare and medicine, consumer technology, automotive, packaging, aerospace, building and construction and everything in between.


by Ian Blackwood

Growing up in the early 20th century, Walter Lincoln Hawkins faced immeasurable obstacles as an African-American, orphaned at a young age, attempting to gain an education to pursue his passion of math and science. He persevered though, becoming a true pioneer in the world of chemical engineering and polymers, and paving the way for many in the plastics and telecommunications industries, regardless of the color of their skin.


Hawkins received a degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1932, and went on to receive a master’s degree in chemistry from Howard University and a doctoral degree from McGill University. All of these were remarkable feats for the time, but his inspirational accomplishments didn’t end at graduation.

During World War II Hawkins helped develop synthetic substitutes for rubber, a vital wartime resource that was largely controlled by Axis powers. Among his numerous technical achievements, he designed a lab test to predict the durability of a plastic surface using spectroscopy. Hawkins also greatly extended the life span of plastic substances by helping to create new techniques for recycling and reusing plastics.

After the war, Hawkins went on to work at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, becoming the first African-American scientist on staff. Some of his earliest and most notable work at Bell Labs involved, with the help of partner Victor Lanza, creating a polymer coating, now called “plastic cable sheath,” which would protect telephone cables. Previous wire coatings were costly, toxic, or too easily worn down by the weather. Hawkins’ polymer, which was made from plastic with a chemical additive composed of carbon and antioxidants, was cheaper, safer to use, and resistant to extreme weather conditions. This polymer saved billions of dollars, enabled the development of telephone service around the world, and is still in use today to protect fiber optic cables.

Throughout his career Hawkins made enormous contributions as a mentor and educator. He became the first chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Summer Educational Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged (SEED) program. Additionally, he served as a board member at several educational institutions. Having found his passion in science, and making the most of it, Hawkins passed on all that he learned, encouraging young people to pursue careers in science.

Hawkins was a true pioneer of the 20th century. His work led to tremendous breakthroughs in plastics, telecommunications, chemical engineering and beyond. But, perhaps even more importantly, he was a pioneer for young people who were disadvantaged and minorities, striking out a path for them to follow through education and on to a fulfilling career in science and chemistry.

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