What is Plastic

Most plastics are synthetic polymers or long chains of molecules made from natural gas or oil to which various chemicals are added (additives). Plastics are pivotal to modern life, medicine and public health as they can be manufactured at a low cost using little energy and into a myriad of soft, transparent or flexible forms suitable for a broad range of applications. As a lightweight alternative to metals, for example, to reduce the weight of automobiles, leading to lower fuel consumption. Plastic items that can be readily disposed of like latex gloves, dialysis tubes, intravenous bags and plastic syringes eliminate the need for repeated sterilization, which is often costly and inefficient. Such single-use items have had a marked effect on reducing blood-borne infections, including hepatitis B and HIV.

Unfortunately the convenience of plastic has also led to massive production and consumption worldwide, without adequate planning to deal with plastic products after their limited period of use.

Some plastic waste can be recycled, but energy is required to return it to its moldable form to reuse. Thus industries have typically preferred to use the cheaper approach of simply making more new plastic, rather than trying to reuse the material already out there.

As pointed out by Halden and North in the Journal 'Reviews on Environmental Health' "We are in need of a second plastic revolution. The first one bought us the age of plastics, changing human society and enabling the birth and explosive growth of many industries. But the materials used to make plastics weren't chosen judiciously and we see the adverse consequences in widespread environment pollution and unnecessary human exposure to harmful substances. Smart plastics of the future will be equally versatile but also non-toxic, biodegradable and made from renewable energy sources."

Think you Know Plastics?Plastic comes in so many forms, you may not be aware of all the ways it is present in your home, workplace and leisure life. Click here for a list all the different types of plastics.

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