Take a look around your desk and you will see many products that were created using plastics, from the pens in your pen cup to your computer screen and mobile phone. While these products are made with plastic, all plastics are not the same and there are actually quite a few different kinds of plastic. All plastics were made using various synthetic polymers, and it is the types of polymers used that identify which type of plastic is found in a product.
In ancient times, people made items out of natural plastics formed from rubber mixed with items such as blood protein or egg. As the centuries passed, scientists experimented with different polymers and compounds, and eventually man-made forms of plastic were created. The first to earn a patent was Alexander Parkes, who invented Parkesine in 1856, although this cellulose-based plastic did not enjoy widespread use. In fact today, ping pong balls and guitar picks are about the only items produced with this plastic. Bakelite, the first plastic created from a synthetic polymer, came along a few years later and was widely used for the first half of the 20th century.
The invention of vulcanization was an important moment in plastic history, and while this has nothing to do with Mr. Spock from Star Trek, it is interesting nonetheless. The process of vulcanization is a chemical process in which sulfur is added to rubber or similar polymers to create a highly durable or hard material. Tires are one product created using this process, and the Goodyear Tire Company was actually named after the man credited with inventing the concept of vulcanization.
In addition to being made of various polymers, plastics are often divided in these two categories: thermoset plastic and thermoplastic. Thermoset plastics are quite resistant to heat and are less expensive than thermoplastic, which is easy to melt and mold. Thermoset plastic cannot be recycled, but it’s quite strong and is used in automobiles as well as computers and appliances.
Millions of products are created using thermoplastics, which can be recycled over and over again. Food, beverages, medicines, toys and much more are made out this type of plastic, and even though it costs a bit more than thermoset plastic, it does have plenty of advantages. If you’ve ever dropped a plastic soda bottle on a hard surface, you’ve demonstrated one excellent property – thermoplastic is highly impact resistant. Many types of thermoplastic also are chemical resistant which means you can safely store potentially hazardous chemicals in thermoplastic bottles.
Obviously, recyclability is one of the biggest advantages thermoplastic has over thermoset. Most thermoplastics can be recycled many times, which in theory reduces the burden on our landfills. It also can reduce energy use in general because recycling plastic does not require as much energy as creating a plastic product from scratch.
Lenna Stockwell enjoys writing about how stuff is made. For further information about custom plastic packaging solutions or to find out more about thermoform plastics, please visit the Indepak.com site today.