Is Plastic the New Wonder Material?

These days everything seems to be made of plastic. From toys through lunch boxes, garbage bins, storage crates and drums etc. to Cars. In your car the gas tank is plastic the steering wheel is plastic, the carpet is plastic, there’s even plastic in windows, and front and rear panels.

They say that this is because they work better, but I wonder – are they just trying to economize? I did some research into plastics and came up with a result that surprised me. In most cases plastic wins, it’s not only less costly and more efficient, it’s even better when designed for the job, and using the correct of plastic. (I’m nearly convinced, I’m really a skeptic)

The first thing I found out was that plastics have been around since before WW1 in fact Bakelite dates from around 1907. Even then it was used in cars! Then, like many other things, there was a rapid diversity during WW2. One of the most popular plastics around these days, Polyethylene, was developed at this time, mainly as a coating for underwater cables, insulation of the cable wires and on Radar, itself a WW2 rapid expansion product.

Commercial operations took up the expertise developed during the war, and expanded the uses until it became the most popular form of plastic. Today Polyethylene is used for many things such as drums, containers, pipe, toys, housewares, shopping bags, trash bags, garment bags, packaging films, gasoline tanks, and coatings.

Another form of Plastic popular with industry is Polycarbonate. This was developed in the ’50s, initially to compete with die-cast metals. Polycarbonate is tough, strong, and rigid, but still able to be extruded. As it is transparent, as well as being tough and rigid, they are often used instead of glass, where these properties are needed.

They also lend them selves to processes such as injection moulding, blow moulding, rotational moulding and extrusion. In common with most other plastics they can withstand a wide range of temperatures. They make great electrical insulators and are widely used in appliances, for example, vacuum cleaners.