Since the discovery of bakelite in the early 1900s, man-made or synthetic plastics have become a major constituent of many items we use every day. Plastics have many properties that make them ideal for a broad range of applications. Thermoset plastics, those that harden by curing with heat, are particularly well suited for molding, casting, pressing, and extruding. The malleability characteristic of plastics allows for unique shapes and custom plastic extrusion parts that would be difficult or impossible to create with other materials.
Plastics have found use in a huge variety of consumer products. As a result, the US plastics industry is the third-largest manufacturing industry employing almost a million people. In 2012, a total volume of approximately 55 million tons of plastic was made. On the long list of uses, some of the most common applications include packaging, textiles, and transportation.
Plastics in Packaging
The ability to form plastic into incredibly unique shapes makes it an excellent material for protecting products from damage and contamination. The lightweight and durability of these materials make them ideal for everything from beverage bottles to garbage bags. One special property that can be incorporated in their manufacture enables shrink wrapping of food items or as insulators in electrical circuits.
Plastics in Textiles
While cotton has been and remains a major component of the textile industry, the incorporation of synthetic plastic fibers has taken on a larger role over time. Synthetic fibers can be used to create cloth with a variety of special characteristics for use in things like clothing, drapes, and upholstery.
Plastics in Transportation
The quest for building automobiles that are lighter weight in order to improve fuel efficiency has been a major driver in the use of plastics in the transportation industry. By including additives in the plastics they can be reinforced making them excellent materials for absorbing shock in collisions as well. Many cars today include up to 50 percent plastic while only adding 10 percent of the vehicle’s weight.
The many unique useful characteristics available with plastic materials have made them a major ingredient in the modern world. So much so that there is rising concern about pollution caused by plastics that are not recycled. Recycling efforts are helping address these issues. Plastics are an amazing material that makes possible many of today’s conveniences.