The FAQ’s on Plastic and Polymers
The Basics of Plastics
KMA SA Marketing predominately markets plastic and polymers to cater to the industrial and manufacturing industries. When I relay this to my friends they often ask “but what is plastic” or “Isn’t it all the same?”
So I decided that, as the first official KMA SA Marketing blog post, it would be a good idea to start with the basics: defining what is plastic?. But ‘one does not simply define plastics’ as a great meme would say so let’s get to it then shall we?
What is plastic? The meaning behind the word.
The dictionary definition of the word plastic means “a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers that can be moulded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form”.
It derives from the Greek word ‘plassein’, literally meaning ‘to mould’. Many believe that the word stems from the Greek word ‘plastikos’ however this word was only introduced later in the Greek language and was then used in Latin as ‘plasticus’ and eventually in French to ‘plastique’.
In the mid 17th century the word plastic was used to describe anything with the characteristics of moulding.
However today when someone uses the term ‘plastic’ our immediate thoughts will turn to the physical material used in creating our water bottles, shopping/carrying bags, chairs…well just about anything actually that we use in our common day-to-day lives.
Which leaves us with the next pondering question….
So what is plastic made out of and what is a polymer?
Plastics are defined as semi-organic materials, which are derived from oil or petroleum. The monomers of plastic can be natural or synthetic. These monomers join together to create a polymeric structure (polymer). This polymeric structure is then classified as synthetic or semi-synthetic polymers.
In other words plastic is a polymer, which has a large molecular mass. Simply put: plastics are simply chains of like molecules (or monomers) linked together. These chains are called polymers.
Polymers have very different physical and chemical properties than their monomers that make them up. They have unique properties and can be tailored depending on their intended purpose.
Many names for different plastics begin with the prefix ‘poly’ because they are a polymer derived from a specific chain of monomers, such as: Polyethylene (PE), polystyrene. polypropylene (PP) and poly-carbonate (PC).
But wait, there’s more you need to know…
Thermosetting Plastic Polymers and Thermoplastic Polymers and Bioplastics
Plastics are further classified as thermosetting polymers and thermoplastic polymers.
Thermosetting polymers (a.k.a. thermo-sets) solidify into a permanent shape. They are amorphous and have an infinite molecular weight and cannot be recycled.
Thermoplastics, however, can be heated and remoulded over and over again. Such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene(PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene. Some thermoplastics are amorphous but some have a partially crystalline structure.
And then you get bioplastics. Many bioplastics are designed to biodegrade. They are made from renewable biomass resources such as vegetable fats and oils, cornstarch, or even bacteria.
At the end of the day what is plastic used for?
Although there are many polymers, plastics in general are lightweight with significant degrees of strength, flexibility and purposes. Plastics can be moulded, extruded, cast, blown and injected into limitless shapes, films, foams or even fibers for textiles. Along side the day-to-day items we come across such as: bottles, bags, stationary, containers, car parts and such, plastics are also used as many types of coatings, sealants and glues.
If you want a more scientific or detailed descriptions or if you have any more questions about plastics that you need answered, feel free to contact me through my contact details on this link.