Plastics are any synthetic or semisynthetic materials that are made up of organic polymers with a high molecular weight (however, industrial plastics are commonly made from petrochemicals (Helmenstine, 2018). The two basic classes of plastics are thermoplastics and thermosets, thermoplastics meaning they can be melted and re-shaped repeatedly, and thermosets referring to plastics that cannot return to their original state after being cooled and hardened. They can also be manufactured to have specific qualities or characteristics, allowing them to have an endless amount of uses across a range of different areas including transportation, sports, energy efficiency, packaging, electronics and medicine. For example, flexible and lightweight plastics are used for things such as food packaging and airbags whereas more rigid and strong plastics are suitable for sporting and medical equipment. The practicality of plastics and their ability to adapt to a variety of functions makes it one of the most widely used man-made products in the world, and although it may seem to benefit our society as a whole, it can have devastating effects on our surroundings when used or disposed of incorrectly.
Last updated: April 7, 2019
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