Plastics in Everyday Life

In the past 60 years, plastics have developed an amazing presence in our lives. In fact, if there were no plastics, you would be in for quite a shock. In just a few short decades, consumers have come to consider the extraordinary properties of plastics as nothing out of the ordinary. Plastics’ popularity and wide usage can be attributed to one basic fact: because of their range of properties and design technologies, plastics offer consumer benefits unsurpassed by other materials.

 

There are about 45 basic families of plastics, and each of these can be made with hundreds of variations. An example is the polyethylene family. Polyethylene is the material from which most plastic household packaging is made. This versatile plastic comes in nearly 1,000 different grades!

 

By controlling factors such as melt indices, molecular weights, molecular weight distributions, densities, etc., plastics can be created with specific properties, each designed for a special use. For instance, polyethylene can be used to produce:

  • Plastic film that stretches (and film that doesn’t stretch);
  • Plastic film that is transparent (and film that is opaque);
  • Pipe that carries drinking water and tanks that hold gasoline;
  • Bottles that hold liquids ranging from milk to motor oil, juices and shampoos.

And this is just ONE of the 45 basic families of different plastics. Families can be combined to produce new materials with additional properties. Mix in additives and reinforcements through a technique called compounding, and you can get even more advantages: practically any color without painting; sections as stiff as steel at less than half the weight; containers that let oxygen in but keep nitrogen out – just about anything you need. And, finally, plastics can be combined with other types of materials to produce yet more products and possibilities.

 

Plastics are made from materials found in nature – petroleum, natural gas and coal. Basic compounds – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, for example – are extracted from these materials and then combined in an almost infinite number of ways to produce the many kinds of plastics used today.


Small molecules (monomers) found in the basic compounds are linked together using heat, pressure and the addition of reactive agents to form longer, giant molecules known as polymers, or plastics.

There are more than 30 distinct methods of converting plastic raw materials into finished parts. Four of the most prevalent are:

  • Blow molding – for hollow objects (bottles, drums, containers)
  • Molding – for solid objects (appliance housings, CD’s, boat hulls, etc.)
  • Extrusion – for flat, rolled and tubular shapes (windows, doors, siding)
  • Casting – for objects made from liquid resins (sink bowls, furniture, etc.)

 

Plastics At Home

The impact of plastics in the home has been profound – both inside and out. Today’s working parents and busy homes demand the convenience of plastic packaging and need the services plastic packaging can provide. More and more, consumers are turning to plastic packaging because it:

  • Protects products – Plastic wrap allows perishable foods to retain their freshness longer. • Resealable and storage bags allow access while protecting leftovers.
  • Resists breakage – Shatter-resistant plastic bottles are safe for use in kitchen, bath or laundry.
  • Makes handling easier – Economy sizes weigh much less in plastic, and convenient handles make them easy to use – saving both effort and money.
  • Allows tamper protection – Shrink-wrap bands and tamper-evident/child-proof closures protect consumers and provide peace of mind for parents.
  • Adds convenience – For microwave cooking, plastic trays are the package of choice for consumers.

 

The use of plastics in the home extends far beyond packaging. Today’s homeowners and building professionals rely on plastics more and more.

  • Carpet – Stain- and crush-resistant carpeting is a plastic product. The use of plastic ensures a durable product that will be enjoyed for years
  • Upholstery – Much of our furniture upholstery incorporates plastic fibers. Both the covering and padding gain benefits from plastic’s durability, stain and fade resistance.
  • Countertops – The advanced plastic countertops of today can be made with the impact resistance of granite, while possessing any number of custom finishes.
  • Electrical Components – Without plastic sheathing few homeowners would feel safe using electricity. A multitude of plastic products provides for the safe use of electricity.
  • Plumbing Supplies – The majority of our plumbing needs are handled by plastic PVC or ABS pipe. Tub surrounds and even full shower units are composed primarily of plastic.
  • Exterior Shutters – Plastic shutters are made to withstand years of heat, wind, rain, snow, bitter cold and still maintain the appearance expected of an accent pane
  • Insulation – Plastic foam insulating panels offer excellent insulating properties, ease of handling and installation, without any of the concerns for airborne particulate matter.
  • Vinyl Siding – Many of today’s homebuilders and remodelers find PVC siding to be an excellent material for all project levels. Excellent impact resistance, low maintenance costs, ease of installation, and superior color retention are only a few of the benefits.
  • Vinyl Window & Door Products – Plastic has a prominent position in both fenestration and entryway applications. Today’s vinyl window and door products are made from plastic materials that are durable, require low maintenance, have superior color retention, and ensure trouble-free use for the life of the product.
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