All about plastic!


Image adapted from https://www.natgeokids.com/

Plastics have a reputation for damaging the environment because they do not break down easily. It is estimated that it would take about 500 years for a plastic bottle to be broken down in the landfill! Unfortunately, the disposal of plastics is often mishandled, which leads to things like plastic bags and bottles ending up in the ocean where they can hurt animals. This is why plastic recycling is so important! Instead of ending up in animal habitats, recycled plastics can be turned into clothing, furniture, bottles and many other items.

Learn more about the importance of plastic recycling from this video:

The applications of plastics are endless. Just by looking around now - how many objects made of this versatile material can you identify? 

Researches around the world have invented more than 50 kinds of plastic in the past 100 years. Plastics are generally quite cheap to make and buy and that's why they have replaced more expensive materials such as wood, metals, silk and leather in construction and clothing.

But what are plastics exactly and how are there over 50 kinds of them? 

This comes down to chemistry! In chemistry, plastics are referred to as polymers which are long chains of repeating molecules (called monomers). You can think of a polymer as a daisy chain in which each daisy is an individual molecule! Different combinations of molecules and chain lengths/arrangements result in different kinds of plastic! The process of joining the monomers into chains is called polymerisation.

Plastics can be molded into many shapes at high temperatures. The heat softens the plastic which can then be poured into a mold. As the softened plastic cools, it hardens. This cycle can be repeated with some plastics to make various other shapes.

Find out how plastic bottles are made from this video:


Try the experiment from Science Buddies (https://www.sciencebuddies.org/stem-activities/milk-into-plastic#summary) and try to turn milk to a plastic! Be creative with colours and glitter. 

Post by Weronika