Plastic is made up of organic polymers of high molecular mass. These polymers are derived from crude oil that is pumped from underground. In an oil refinery, the oil is divided into hydrocarbons which are purified then combined with elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, chlorine and sulphur. These elements link with the oil’s carbon atoms to make small units of plastic called monomers. Long chains of these are called polymers. When these small units of plastic are combined in different order, they make different kinds of plastic.
Many plastics melt when heated, these are known as thermoplastics. Others are tougher, with the toughest type of plastic, known as ‘thermoset’, being used to make baths, boats and glue.
Properties and qualities
Plastic has a number of properties that make it a highly useful material. It is transparent, flexible, resistant to water and electricity. It is also generally lightweight and strong and can be moulded into any shape of all sizes. Plastic can mimic fibres from the natural world such as cotton, silk, wool, porcelain and marble, and successfully make synthetic materials such as clear sheets and flexible films.
Plastics are also resistant to chemicals. As many aggressive solvents do not corrode plastic, it is an excellent material for packaging. Plastic is also both a thermal and electrical insulator, meaning that it doesn’t transfer heat or electricity. Subsequently, it is frequently used to manufacture kitchenware.
How does it feel?
Plastic is hard and smooth to touch.
Plastic can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. For best results, refer to the care instructions on your plastic product.