What Are Plastics?

These days plastics found great applications in thousands of products like- medical equipment, computers, toys, automobile parts, sports equipment, clothes, household items, defense equipments, cookware etc. Moreover, plastic industry is growing day by day. Even before the invention of first synthetic plastic, various naturally occurring materials like- shellac, gutta percha, horns of the animals were used as natural plastic materials.

Natural plastic materials
Gutta-percha is actually synthesized from the sap of some special trees and the shellac can be obtained from the secretions of a small insect. Animal horns can also be used as a natural plastic material but prior to that, horns are needed to be softened/ plasticized by boiling them in water or by soaking them in some alkaline solution.

Synthetic plastic – modern innovation
First synthetic plastic was actually derived from the cellulose (most abundant plant material). In the year of 1869, an American inventor and printer, John Wesley Hyatt found that the material cellulose nitrate can be effectively used as an economical substitute against ivory. Later it was postulated that this mixture/ material could also be plasticized easily by adding camphor to it. The resulting material was named as Celluloid. This material was the only available plastic for even more then 30 years. It was exclusively used for producing the combs, shirt collars, eyeglass frames, dentures, billiard balls, photographic film and buttons.

Then in the year of 1951, modern plastic was discovered by 2 young research chemists of Phillips Petroleum Company (situated in the Bartlesville, Okla.). They discovered two most commonly used type of modern plastic- polyethylene and polypropylene.

Plastic industry
Before reaching to you plastic follows an extremely tedious pathway (from petroleum to plastic) that is mentioned below-

1.First step include, petroleum extraction and transportation to the petroleum refinery.

2.In refinery natural gas and Crude oil are refined into the propane, ethane, petrol and various other important petrochemical products.

3. Then by using the high-temperature furnaces, propane and ethane are cracked into the propylene and ethylene.

4. Addition of suitable catalyst in the reactor of propylene or ethylene results into the formation of “fluff”, which is a polymer (powdered material) that resembles with the laundry detergent.

5. Then in a continuous blender Fluff is mixed with the additives.

6. Then melting of the polymer takes place in an extruder.

7. After cooling down the resulting plastic material, feed it into a pelletizer. This pelletizer will cut the plastic into pellets.

8. These pellets are then shipped to various plastic industries.

9. Plastic industries use these pellets to produce/manufacture various plastic products. This manufacturing can be done by using various processes like blow molding, injection molding, extrusion etc.

Plastic is actually a fantastic material. It can be molded into any shape and it is economical too. Modern plastics find applications in countess processes and products. Many types of plastics are known that possess an exclusive property of cold and heat resistance. Such plastics find great applications in manufacturing of microwave and conventional ovens. Plastics have great uses in manufacturing of lightweight home/office furniture, water piping for buildings; wire insulations, protective coatings of the cookware etc. So, plastic should be seen as a wonderful innovation of modern science.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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