Plastic products are everywhere you look. The computer or tablet you’re reading this article on is made of it. So is the mouse you’re using to scroll the page and the keyboard you’ll use to type out a comment.
But have you every stopped to think why? What is it about plastic that makes it such a popular material for making almost anything? Don’t worry, this isn’t a test. We’ve got the answers for you right here. If you want to know even more about what plastic and other materials are made up of, you better start learning chemistry with this great course.
Main Advantages of Plastic
Here are some of the reasons plastic is so widely used:
Probably one of the biggest benefits of plastic is how lightweight it is, while still being able to carry (no pun intended) so many other benefits. It can be as simple as plastic grocery bags making your trips back and forth up the driveway that much easier. Or as major as making cars more fuel efficient without sacrificing any of their vital safety features.
Sure, there are other materials that are just as good, just as strong, and just as versatile as plastic. But they all cost a fortune to produce. Plastic is so cheap to make that many people even think we have too much of it.
Now, it’s penchant for creating inexpensive products can also be seen as a negative at times. People often assume – and sometimes rightfully so – that certain plastic products are poorly made. Think plastic silverware or furniture. But we’d argue that’s more a product of how it was manufactured, not the material it’s made from.
Plastic can take an absolute beating. It’s tough, resilient, and excellent at absorbing shock. It’s one of the main reasons cars are able to get safer and safer everyday. Plastic bumpers absorb shock, plastic dashboards and door panels are a little kinder on your head during a wreck, and plastic fuel tanks minimize explosion risks.
It’s even been used to create bullet proof vests that are stronger and lighter than some of the other materials they’ve been commonly made of in the past.
If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably reused an empty soda bottle at least once in your life. You’ve got plastic tupperware and maybe even some plastic plates, cups, and bowls. A combination of a few of the material’s finer traits makes it incredibly resuable.
It can also be recycled and reshaped into new products. Even more amazingly, it can be melted down into oil or fuel and scientists are working to make this process more and more efficient by the day. Read about how recycling can benefit the economy this excellent blog post.
Add a little heat and pressure and plastic can become pretty much anything you want. Just think of all the shapes and sizes it comes in, from a baby’s sippy cup to airplane parts. It can be paper thin and flimsy, like a plastic grocery bag. Or rock hard and practically indestructible.
For anything plastic can do, there’s a good chance there’s another material – whether it’s glass, metal, rubber, or what have you – that can pull it off too. But few can match plastic’s ability to do just about anything, and do it pretty well, at that.
Part of plastic’s reusability comes from the fact that it is almost completely devoid of smell, while also being pretty resistant to picking them up from food, drinks, soap, and pretty much anything else you can put in there. It’s why you can use that same tupperware over and over again without it smelling like old spaghetti. It’s also great for knowing when it’s clean or not – if you ever detect a smell on plastic, you know it’s time for a good washing.
Make sure you check out this neat course on packaging your own soap and cosmetics for more evidence.
Plastic doesn’t conduct electricity. Combined with it’s toughness and versatility, this makes it the go-to material for all kinds of electronics. Remote controls, computers, TVs, kitchen appliances – you name it and chances are it’s made of plastic. Other materials, like rubber, are less than ideal for making many of the things we use plastics for instead.
You’ll get an even better idea of all the plastic that goes into your computer when you take this course and learn to build one.
Not only does plastic’s transparency make it easy to know when you’re almost out of milk or what kind of sandwich your mom put in your lunch bag, it also makes things like bullet-resistant glass and all kinds of other safety features possible. Transparent plastic can even help to block out harmful UV rays that can damage your eyesight.
Wait a minute. If plastic is heat resistant, how do you explain all those army men figures you melted in the backyard as a kid? OK, so it’s not completely heat resistant.
But it’s good enough to make the handle on your pots and pans. It’s also used in many electronics that are capable of getting pretty toasty themselves.
Paper or Plastic?
We think you get the picture by now – and probably even have some new found appreciation for plastic. It really is a vital, but sometimes underrated, part of our everyday lives. Make sure you continue your chemistry education and learn more about plastic with this awesome course.