Planet or Plastic?


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Plastic has become an integral part of human life. From clothes and packaging materials to medical products and even space travel: Plastics appear everywhere, and in many different shapes and forms. Their usability seems to be almost unlimited. Considering the short history of this material, its omnipresence nowadays is remarkable. The first synthetic plastics were developed 150 years ago, and it was only after World War II that their widespread use in the production of everyday items began.

This fast and sweeping success can be easily explained with the numerous positive qualities of plastics. They are lightweight, yet durable, a combination without which many technical developments would not have been possible. The invention of plastics has revolutionized human life – and by now, due to the lack of suitable alternatives, we have become dependent on them in many areas.

The dark side of this success revealed itself with delay. As the use of plastic products, in particular those intended for single use, increased, so did the amount of plastic waste that was generated. The durability of the material now presents a critical problem: Plastic degrades very slowly, and even small particles – so-called microplastics – cause damage to plants and animals when they reach the environment. Improperly disposed of, plastic waste is transported over long distances by wind and ocean currents. It even reaches places that are otherwise undisturbed by human influence, like the deep sea or remote island beaches.

How drastic the negative impacts of plastic on nature truly are is the subject of ongoing research. However, it is an undeniable fact that plastic waste poses a significant problem.

The exhibition “Planet or Plastic?” dedicates itself to this topic by presenting a collection of profound and striking photographs. It is based on a global multi-year initiative by the National Geographic Society, which aims at reducing the amount of plastic waste in the oceans. This exhibit presents the complexity of the topic in over 70 images and infographics. It not only shows the extent of the environmental damage caused by plastic, but also emphasizes the achievements that were made possible by its invention. In addition, it presents success stories in the fight against plastic pollution and introduces the visitor to people who dedicate themselves to the topic with inspiring research and innovation efforts. Last but not least it shows how each and every one can contribute to finding solutions for this crisis.

"Planet or Plastic?" is organized and traveled by the National Geographic Society and is presented in collaboration with the Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum in Braunschweig and Expona.