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Timeline (in progress)

2019

Types of food waste and biodegradable plastics. (Photography by Studio-SP)

UCL launches its Plastic Waste Innovation Hub and the Big Compost Experiment.

2018

WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launch the UK Plastics Pact, a unique platform for businesses, governments, innovators, NGOs, and citizens to work together for nationwide plastic systems reform.

2007

Types of food waste. (Photography by Studio-SP)

Approximately 5 million tonnes of edible food waste is produced by domestic households every year. Much of this waste ends up in landfill sites and breaks down anearobically, producing harmful greenhouse gases such as methane.

WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) launches its ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign. A significant aim of the campaign is to reduce the amount of organic matter ending up in landfill, thereby reducing the production of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.

1946

Founders of the Soil Association. (www.soilassociation.org)

The Soil Association is founded in response to growing concerns about intensive farming techniques and the use of herbicides popularised in wartime. Principle activities of the charity include campaigning against intensive farming, support for local purchasing and nutrition education, and the certification of organic produce.

1938–45

A London 'victory garden'. (National Archives and Records Administration)

World War Two food shortages lead to rationing and other measures in the UK in order to increase local and household food production, including food waste collection for feeding animals and making compost. So called ‘victory gardens’ are promoted, encouraging the public to grow their own food and reduce the pressure on public food supplies.

1935

'Quick Return' composting advertisement. (www.qrcompostingsolutions.co.uk)

Maye Bruce, gardener and founder member of the Soil Association, develops the 'Quick Return' (QR) composting method. The method is popularised due to speed of compost production, and organic and sustainable preparation. It utilises a herbal activator made from the honey and the leaves and flowers of six common herbs; chamomile, dandelion, valerian, yarrow, nettle, and oak. See recipe here.

1926

First development of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) from bacterium Bacillus megaterium. This is the first bioplastic to be made from bacteria.

1920

Wallace Carothers in the lab. (Photographer unknown)

Polylactic Acid or PLA (a biobased and biodegradable plastic) is first discovered by Wallace Carothers, the scientist who discovered nylon and neoprene. Carothers tries to develop a commercially viable process to produce PLA in the lab, but is unsuccessful at the time.

1914–18

WI produce stall, Gloucestershire 1933. (LSE Library)

World War One food waste is identified as problematic and food rationing is introduced. One of the initial goals of the Women’s Institute (WI), set up in 1915, is to combat food waste.

1897

Five white galalith/casein pre-1953 RAAF buttons. (Tyranny Sue / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Galalith is invented, a bio-based and biodegradable plastic made from casein protein found in milk. Although cheap to produce, its commercial breakthrough is limited for several reasons. Milk is scarce and the development of oil-based plastics is boosted during World War One. Another issue is that Galalith cannot be moulded once set, so it has to be produced in sheets. However, it can easily be cut, drilled, embossed, dyed, and manipulated to create a range of effects. Galalith is still used today to make buttons.

1888

The bio-based and biodegradable plastic PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) is discovered.

1868

Patent drawings for injection moulding Celluloid. (John Wesley Hyatt).

John Wesley Hyatt acquires Alexander Parkes patent and begins to manufacture billiard balls from cellulose nitrate (a biodegradable bioplastic) as an alternative to ivory. An unfortunate disadvantage to this material is its inherent flammability, leading to some explosive incidents in the billiard halls.

1862

Alexander Parkes creates Parkesine, the first man-made and bio-based plastic (bioplastic) made from cellulose found in the cell walls of plants. His discovery is first made public at London's 1862 International Exhibition. Initially promoted as an inexpensive replacement for rubber, Parkesine is moldable, transparent and maintains its shape after cooling.

1842

In 1842, social reformer Edwin Chadwick writes his ‘Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain,’ in which he argues for the importance of adequate waste removal and management facilities to improve the health and wellbeing of London's population.

69 BC

Queen Cleopatra VII is the first ruler of ancient Egypt to declare that worms are sacred, and that their removal from Egypt is punishable by death.

100 BC

In his first-century BC agricultural writings, Fan Sheng-Chih Shu indicates that the ancient Chinese enriched soil with cooked bones, manure, and silkworm debris.

There are also references to composting manure and straw in Ancient Chinese writings, and Bhagavad Gita (‘The Song of the Lord’) in early Hindu texts.

234 BC

In his book entitled De Agri Cultura (Concerning the Culture of the Fields), Cato the Elder describes the composting of animal manures, as well as plant waste.

Dung is used in three ways: for direct spreading; to be mixed with street sweepings and organics refuse on the dunghill outside the city walls; and to produce liquid manure from trampled manure-soaked straw.

His system appears to be the first recorded use of vermicomposting.

800 BC

The Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all practise compost making, taking straw from animal stalls and burying it in cultivated fields. There are references to composting manure and straw in the Hebrew Talmud and Old Testament.

The Bible contains numerous references to dung and dunghills. In the countryside, manure is spread onto fields, while in cities and towns it is collected with street sweepings, which contained a large amount of faecal material, and stored in dunghills outside the city walls. Manure-contaminated straw is also soaked in water to make liquid manure.

The Hebrew Talmud records that ashes, straw, stubble, chaff, grass and animal blood from sacrifices is used as fertiliser.

1500 BC

Mesoamerican cultures (Olmec, Maya, Aztecs) use natural latex and rubber to make balls, containers, and for waterproofing clothing.

2320 BC

The first written account of compost making is produced during the reign of Sargon of Akkad.

4000 BC

There is evidence of composting in Scotland in the Neolithic Era.

Midden heaps are ploughed in situ; early farmers would run an ‘ard’ over their ‘compost’ heaps before sowing their plots. An examination of these soils shows evidence of manure, vegetable waste, ash, and other organic matter. While this may have been a deliberate attempt to spread nutrients, it was more likely just an attempt to level the cultivated area and redistribute muck.