The Long and Positive Life of Plastic

Plastics are everywhere. Plastic is inexpensive, lightweight, and versatile. It also lasts a very long time. Before deciding if the longevity of plastic is a blessing or a curse, let’s find out what it is, where it came from, and why plastic is a vital part of our everyday lives.

The word plastic comes from the Greek verb plassein, which means “to mold or shape.”

The first plastic-like material was introduced in 1862 at the Great International Exhibition in London. Alexander Parkes discovered a solid residue that remained after solvent evaporated from photographic collodion. He patented this nitrocellulose-based thermoplastic as Parkesine. Once Parkesine was heated, it was malleable and retained its shape when cooled.

The Long and Positive Life of PlasticJohn Wesley Hyatt acquired Parkes’ patent in the late 1860s and engineered a plastic known as celluloid. It was used as a substitute for ivory in billiard balls, piano keys, and false teeth. Even early plastic made a positive impact by saving elephants from slaughter. In addition, plastic was easier to manufacture and less expensive than ivory from tusks. John Wesley Hyatt also invented the first injection molding machine in 1872.

The introduction of formaldehyde in the late 1800s led to the first synthetic plastic, Bakelite, patented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. Perfecting plastic chemistry would continue in the 20th century with the development of vinyl or PVC, polyethylene, acrylic, polyurethane, and more.

What makes plastic so durable? The answer is in its chemical composition. Plastics are polymers. A polymer is a very long chain of molecular units with carbon as the defining element. This is most often combined with hydrogen but might also include nitrogen and oxygen. Infrequently, fluorine and chlorine are also part of these molecular chains. The length of these chains provides their strength. These polymers are very flexible and pliable, a characteristic not found in clay, stone, or most metals.

Polymers exist in nature. Cellulose and keratin are natural polymers that decompose. This highlights a remarkable natural recycling principle known as microbial infallibility. For every substance formed by a living organism, at least one type of microorganism in nature can break it down. Synthetic plastics do not break down in nature because they are manmade. This means today’s plastics can last up to 450 years.

The long life of plastic raises concern for the environment. However, regulation of single-use plastics has reduced their use in recent years, and plastic recycling efforts have increased threefold since the turn of the century. Using plastics can contribute to sustainability efforts. Plastics reduce waste and help us save energy in our homes and businesses. Plastics make vehicles lighter resulting in fewer greenhouse gases from fuel savings. Plastic packaging extends the shelf life of fresh foods and allows us to ship more items with less packaging material.

Plastics are an intelligent choice in manufacturing for many reasons. The Toolroom offers expert plastic injection molding for businesses across the globe. Our professional engineering allows for producing complex part designs that are accurate and reproducible. Color, finish, and texture are customizable. Additional plastic material from a production run can be recycled and used again. Plastic resins are affordable and highly resistant to environmental, chemical, thermal, and other factors.

The long and positive life of plastic can translate to a better bottom line for your business. Plastic injection molding at The Toolroom is streamlined, efficient, and tailored to the needs of each client. So if your goal is quality products that are aesthetically pleasing, economically feasible, and highly durable, start your next project with The Toolroom. We are your one-stop for top-quality precision plastic injection molding. Call 573-437-4154 today.

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