20 Mind Boggling Facts About Plastic

20 Mind Boggling Facts About Plastic

Plastic is everywhere. In fact, you’re probably never more than a metre away from something made with the material. Super flexible, resilient and waterproof, plastic is in your phone, your keyboard, your bag, your mobile phone, your nearest wall sign, all the sockets in your home and your bathroom fittings etc., etc., etc. Essentially, it’s

Plastic is everywhere. In fact, you’re probably never more than a metre away from something made with the material. Super flexible, resilient and waterproof, plastic is in your phone, your keyboard, your bag, your mobile phone, your nearest wall sign, all the sockets in your home and your bathroom fittings etc., etc., etc. Essentially, it’s one of the most widely produced materials across the globe and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

If you’re not already sure that plastic is a megastar in the material world then read on to find out 20 interesting things about the versatile hero. Be warned, they aren’t all positive…

Let’s kick things off with something a little scary…

  • Our food companies don’t know 100% of what makes up the plastic they use for packaging. That means that neither do consumers. As plastic is made from oil or gas, the basic constituents are always the same. Yet, dozens of chemicals are added at manufacturing plants to give different types of plastic its required properties and these mixtures remain trade secrets. Pretty scary that we don’t really know what chemicals have been in contact with the food we’re about to eat right?

Oh, and there’s this…

  • Plastic isn’t necessarily vegetarian-friendly. Amongst the masses of chemicals which are added to plastics, some are pretty gross. Chicken fat has been found in some plastic bags to give them their slippery texture and other animal fats have been used to prevent plastic sticking to machinery. I doubt any vegetarian would consider munching on their latest grocery bag but this gives them all the more reason to find another way of carrying stuff home from the supermarket.

But I wouldn’t mess with tough-man plastic…

  • Plastic is very resistant to bacteria and fungi. The material’s closely interconnected molecules are too large for microbes to get their biters around, never mind digest.

And yet, plastic’s super strength is why…

  • It takes 450 years for plastic to begin decomposing and then up to another 80 for it to disappear completely.

And this means…

  • Every piece of plastic ever made, ever, has still not even begun to decompose. Wow, that hammers home the world’s landfill problems right?

But still…

  • The world churns out more than 600 billion pounds of plastic every year. That means more than one plastic bag is made per minute.

Which is mostly…

  • Polyethylene – the most common type of plastic on the earth. The material consists of gigantic, strong hydrocarbon chains which make it ideal for shopping bags and bottles.

And the second most common type of plastic is…

  • Polypropylene – typically used for bottle caps, straws and food containers. The material’s high heat resistance means it microwave and dishwasher safe and super strong for reusable bags.

But what’s with ‘poly’ in the name of these plastics?

  • The word ‘Polymer’ is Greek. ‘Poly’ translates to ‘many’ and ‘mer’ translates to ‘unit’. Hence a polymer is a ‘many-unit’ material.

I think this needs a little more explanation…

  • Polymers are giant molecules which contain thousands of smaller molecules called monomers. Plastic is produced through a process called polymerisation which links these monomers into long-chains.

Who discovered this could happen?

  • Alexander Parkes invented the first plastic substance in the 1850s. The material was called ‘Parkesine’ but was a bit of a let down as it cracked easily and was highly flammable. He hadn’t cracked it yet.

Then we got a step closer…

  • In 1907, Chemist Leo Hendrik discovered Bakelite, a plastic made from heated wood alcohol and tar. The material was strong and fire-resistant and soon became the ‘Material of a Thousand Uses’. It was used to build telephones, appliances, cameras, fittings and multiple other items across the planet.

And although it looks and feels the same…

  • Cellophane is not a plastic. Swiss chemist Jacques E. Brandenberger discovered the material in 1908 from mixing viscose with acid. It got its name from a mix of the French word for transparent: ‘diaphane’ and its ingredient, ‘cellulose’.

Anyway, plastic really made its entrance when…

  • Polyethylene was invented by German Chemist Karl Ziegler in 1953. This was shortly followed by the invention of Polypropylene by Giulio Natta.

And just to reinforce how much the world relies on plastic…

  • More than 13 billion plastic bags are produced every year. This is equal to 300 per adult, per year in the USA.

And this isn’t good news for the future of our planet…

  • 24 million gallons of oil are needed to manufacture 1 billion plastic bottles. Oil is a finite resource.

And neither is plastic any fun for the environment…

  • 150,000 tons of plastic is disposed into our oceans every year. Besides visual pollution, this plastic thrash has caused the death of more than one million animals which mistook the material for food. In fact, plastic pollution isn’t just a problem underwater. There have been reports of cows, sheep and desert animals dying due to the ingestion of garbage plastic.

But if not thrown away, plastic CAN be recycled…

  • Recycling plastic can save up to two thirds of the energy required for producing plastic from raw materials. And besides less energy, fewer resources are used up and less non-biodegradable plastic is released into our planet.

To put this energy saving into perspective…

  • One recycled plastic bottle can save enough energy to light a 60W light-bulb for 6 hours.

Plastic isn’t all bad. Let’s go out on a high…

  • Plastic is footing innovation in medical science. In 2011, Swiss chemists produced the largest ever synthetic molecule called PG5. In the future, this polymer could be ingested to deliver an appropriate does of medicine to the specific areas of the body.

 

References:

https://livegreen.recyclebank.com/5-Fascinating-Facts-about-Plastic-Recycling
http://www.saynotoplastics.com/plastic-facts/
http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/recycling/stories/5-disturbing-facts-about-plastic


Guest Author Bio:

This article was written by Hannah Richards on behalf of leading UK plastic parts manufacturer, www.ensinger.co.uk.

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