Chemistry » Organic Molecules » Plastics And Polymers

Impact of Polymers and Plastics

Impact of polymers and plastics

Fact:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a large area of waste that has collected in the central North Pacific Ocean. It is estimated to cover at least \(\text{700 000}\) \(\text{km$^{2}$}\).

Impact of Polymers and Plastics

Plastics and the environment

Although plastics have had a huge impact globally, there is also an environmental price that has to be paid for their use. The following are just some of the ways in which plastics can cause damage to the environment.

  1. Waste disposal

    Plastics are not easily broken down by micro-organisms and therefore most are not easily biodegradeable. This leads to waste disposal problems.

  2. Air pollution

    When plastics burn, they can produce toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen chloride (particularly from PVC and other plastics that contain chlorine or nitrogen).

  3. Recycling

    It is difficult to recycle plastics because each type of plastic has different properties and so different recycling methods may be needed for each plastic. Some plastics can be remelted and re-used, while others can be ground up and used as a filler. One of the problems with recycling plastics is that they have to be sorted according to plastic type. A list of some of the different types and their identification codes are given in the table below. Alternatively, plastics should be re-used. In many countries, shoppers must now pay for plastic bags. This encourages people to collect and re-use the bags they already have.

PIC

Plastic type

Properties

Uses

Recycling

Impact of Polymers and Plastics

polyethylene

terephthalate

very clear

high strength

barrier to gas

barrier to moisture

water bottles

peanut butter jars

mouthwash bottles

can recycle

most places

Impact of Polymers and Plastics

high-density

polyethylene

very stiff

high strength

barrier to moisture

allows gas through

yoghurt tubs

detergent bottles

cereal box liners

can recycle

most places

Impact of Polymers and Plastics

polyvinyl

chloride

can be blended easily

high strength

very toughness

detergent bottles

medical equipment

piping

very rarely

recycled

Impact of Polymers and Plastics

low-density

polyethylene

very flexible

high strength

barrier to moisture

clothing

squeeze bottles

bread bags

not often

recycled

Impact of Polymers and Plastics

polypropylene

high strength

resistance to heat

barrier to moisture

syrup bottles

plastic caps

straws

fairly easy

to recycle

Impact of Polymers and Plastics

polystyrene

many uses

very clear

is easily formed

egg cartons

disposable cups

take-away boxes

fairly easy

to recycle

Impact of Polymers and Plastics

other

dependent on

combination of

polymers

large containers

sunglasses

computer cases

often not

recycled

Table: The plastic identification code (PIC), type, properties and uses of various commonly used plastics.

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