Synthetic Plastics We Encounter Every Day
Plastics have become one of society’s most important materials in the late twentieth century. From medicine, telecommunications, transportation and even warfare, plastics have transformed how we do things and how well we can to do them. From the time humanity discovered how to harness fire, we have continually developed stronger and better materials, from fabrics, wood, metals and now plastics and synthetic polymers. These materials are paving the way to even greater achievements.
What are synthetic plastics?
Plastics are a classification of polymers shaped into hard and tough utility articles through heat and pressure. These molecules are made up of long chains of repeating units called monomers. The arrangement of these monomers determines the plastic’s properties. Since these units can be arranged in many different ways, plastics are one of the most adaptable materials used across industries.
Not yet convinced of plastic’s impact on society? Here are five plastics you encounter every day without you even knowing!
1. Polyvinyl chloride
One of the earlier plastics, PVC was first synthesized in 1872 but was not commercially produced until the 1920s by B.F. Goodrich Company. In Singapore, PVC plastic sheets are widely used, mostly in the construction industry, but are also used for signs, healthcare and clothing. PVC is cheap, dense and has very good tensile strength, making it a very popular material when it comes to construction, especially with water pipes.
2. Polymethyl methacrylate
Also called “lucite” or “plexiglass”, PMMA is known for its optical clarity—the main feature, which makes it very useful in the aeronautics industry. Used for aircraft light fixtures and wind screens, polymethyl methacrylate.
First polymerized in 1951 by Paul Hogan and Robert Banks and perfected by Italian chemist, Giulio Natta, polypropylene is as packaging, plastic parts for several industries, special devices and textiles. Today, it is one of the most commonly produced plastics in the world. In Singapore, polypropylene sheets are used as ling in acid tanks, equipment for semi-conduction and machine parts. Because of polyroplylene’s resistance to abrasion, impact and stress, they are perfect for such uses. Because of these traits, PVC is also the perfect material to use as a welding rod in Singapore.
Another important plastic, PE was discovered by Reginald and Eric Fawcett of the British industrial giant Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). This material has evolved into two forms: low-density polyethylene and high-density polyethylene. LDPE is used in producing films and packaging materials, while HDPE is used for plumbing, automotive fittings, and containers.
In trade, PTFE is known as “TEFLON,” a linear polymer with no branches and is an anti-adhesive, impermeable to water and grease, heat and corrosion. As such, PTFE is popularly used in cooking ware for non-stick pans and pots.
Plastics and nature
As all things useful in industries, plastic has with it inherent dangers and downsides. Being non-biodegradable, plastics, when trashed, can stay intact for years. They take up nearly 90% of marine litter, often cause lethal effects to marine life. Sea turtles have been reported to have eaten floating plastic trash, fish caught in plastic wires and nets, and air-breathing animals suffocating after their passageway gets blocked by floating debris.
As studies show, Earth is entering an “Age of Plastic” where land and water masses are slowly being covered up by patches of non-decaying plastic trash. The durability and cheap production of plastics, the same advantages it offers the world, are the same swords that now cut nature.
As with all technology, plastics are to be treated and used with utter responsibility. We encounter them every day, let us learn how to properly manage them.