There is a Sci-fi novel, I thought it was Ringworld but I can't find the passage.

There was, as a small plot point about the past, a bio-agent accidentally released that destroyed all the plastic bags and a lot of other polymer based articles, like Hawaiian Shirts, in the world. I don't remember if the Hawaiian Shirts were mentioned in the book specifically, or if was something I thought of immediately when I read the passage.

Anyone know where I can find this, because I recall liking the story and would like to reread it.

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    Pretty sure this wasn't Ringworld, but I can see the source of the conflation: there was an infectious agent that destroyed all the room-temperature superconducting polymer on the Ringworld some decades or centuries before Lois Wu and company went there -- and in the process, caused the fall of every technological civilization present.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 13:44
  • Did it have a post-apocalyptic vibe, then? i.e. did this polymer plague lead to a deprived world, or did the story take place after alternatives had been discovered, or the plague had been wiped out? Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 13:50
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    @ZeissIkon Yeah I remember that bit of Ringworld and I thought that was what prompted Lois Wu to recall the plastic incident but yeah I can't find it.
    – Ash
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 13:53
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    @A.M.Neville No it was far future Sci-fi the bag thing didn't make a lasting impression, at least not to the story, but people remembered it decades, maybe centuries, later.
    – Ash
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 13:55
  • Dagnabbit, I type Louis Wu's name four times and it still came out wrong...
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 13:59

2 Answers 2


The scene you're refering to comes from Chapter 21 of Ringworld:

Consider such a world: The land is covered with cities in all stages of development. Perhaps slums were made obsolete, but somewhere there are still slums, if only preserved for history. Across the land one can find all the by-products of living: used containers, broken machines, damaged books or film tapes or scrolls, anything that cannot be reused or reprocessed at a profit, and many things which could be. The was have been used as garbage dumps for a hundred thousand years. Somewhere in that time, they were dumping useless radioactive end products of fission.

How strange is it if the sea life evolves to fit the new conditions?

How strange, if new life evolves capable of living on the garbage?

"That happened on Earth once,” said Louis Wu. “A yeast that could eat polyethyline. It was eating the plastic bags off the supermarket shelves. It’s dead now. We had to give up polyethyline.”

Consider ten such worlds.

Bacteria evolved to eat zinc compounds, plastics, paints, wiring insulation, fresh rubbish, and rubbish thousands of years obsolete. It would not have mattered but for the ramships.

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    Nice job, and welcome to the site!
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 14:20
  • That looks like it to me (not that my opinion is the one that matters). Good catch! Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 14:21
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    Beauty! I was looking in completely the wrong part of the story but it is there. Thank you.
    – Ash
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 14:31
  • Sorry if the surrounding part is a bit messy, wasn't sure how much context to copy and the book app doesn't seem to particularly like copying more than a couple paragraphs.
    – Farengeto
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 14:37
  • @Farengeto You're doing better than me already, also it gives me plenty of context.
    – Ash
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 15:41

Although not the answer sought, this was the main plot point of the first program of the BBC TV series 'Doomwatch' and was also released as a book; the TV episode was first aired in Feb 1970 (and I watched it then), slightly pre-dating Ringworld though they will have been independently developed in an overlapping time frame.

  • Interesting I'll have to see if I can find that.
    – Ash
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 12:39

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