A speculative fiction vignette, showing a world without plastic.

“Dring-a-ling-a-ling! Dring-a-ling-a-ling!” The tiny hammer careened between the bells on the alarm clock, indicating it was time to get up. I sleepily fumbled for the off switch, cracking my eyes open to see the hints of light beaming in around the heavy woolen curtains. The linen sheets were cool and smooth on my skin, the down pillow was soft albeit a bit lumpy under my head and I struggled with the urge to just stay in bed. But, the day beckoned. I slipped on my heavy cotton robe over my nightshirt to help ward off the morning chill and shuffled down the stairs to the kitchen. Taking the kettle, I filled it from the tap and set it on the gas burner. After turning the ceramic knob, I struck a match to light the flame and began to set up the French press while the water boiled. I carefully measured the coffee beans from the foil pouch into the hand grinder and once they were the right consistency, I dumped the grounds in to the waiting hopper of the press. The kettle began to whistle so I took the water and poured it over the coffee grounds in the press. The aroma of the brew instantly filled my nostrils, helping clear the sleepy fog from my brain as I poured a generous portion into my favorite ceramic mug.  I pulled the bottle of milk from the refrigerator; the glass clinked softly against the mug as I added a small amount to my coffee. Then I spooned a bit of sugar in from the sugar pot. Stirring the heavenly concoction, I set off in search of the morning newspaper.

“Search For Plastic Substitute Continues” declared the headline. The sub heading continued “As 25th Anniversary of Polymer Plague Nears, Hope For Easy Answer Remains Elusive.” The huge font of the headline was easily readable from the paper’s resting place on the concrete stoop, even through the cellophane wrapper. As I bent to pick up the paper, my mind struggled to remember what the world had been like before the plague. I was about 10 years old when people began to realize that something was happening to the plastics of the world. Objects made of plastic started degrading long before they should have, gradually at first, but after a time eventually they all disintegrated into nothing.

It had started with the best of intentions, as such things often do. During the later half of the 20th century plastics had become ubiquitous. So too had plastic refuse and people worried about the harm being done to the environment and wildlife. Scientists began experimenting with ways to break down petroleum products once their purpose had ended. They developed a bacterial strain that seemed perfect for the task. The lab tests were rousing successes and field tests were planned. At some point, someone became too complacent, too lax in the quarantine protocols. The bacteria escaped into the wild and did what bacteria does best: it evolved and spread until there was no such thing as plastic left.