How Did Modern Plastic Come into Being?

Plastic comprises an assortment of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds. The use of plastic has been on the rise with each passing decade. This is due in no small measure to one of the most important characteristics that plastic has i.e. its malleability. Moulding plastic into a diverse range of solid objects is the prime activity of many business industries across the country. The scientific-minded will know that plastic is an organic polymer with high molecular mass. But, many people can make plastic from various renewable materials as well.

The use of plastic has been increasing with the passage of time. This is not merely because plastic is easy to manufacture and has a relatively low cost. It is also because of the versatility of plastic. Whether you want to make medical devices or sports equipment, plastic will invariably be the material of choice. Plastic is impervious to water as well. This makes it ideal for use in an ever-increasing range of products, including plastic displays and splashbacks. Not surprisingly, plastic has rapidly displaced a host of traditional materials including wood, stone, horn, bone, leather and even, ceramic.

Early plastics featured organic polymers such as egg and blood proteins. Before plastic emerged, people used rubber quite extensively for an array of applications. The Industrial Revolution transformed the landscape considerably. In particular, it led to the accelerated development of plastics. During the Industrial Revolution, Charles Goodyear discovered the process of vulcanisation. This was useful for thermo setting materials made from natural rubber.

The first man-made plastic i.e. Parkesine emerged in 1856 in the UK. Patented by Alexander Parkes, this plastic comprised cellulose treated with nitric acid. Nearly 50 years later, a Belgian chemist named Leo Baekeland came up with the world’s first fully synthetic thermoset i.e. Bakelite. Polystyrene and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) emerged during the 1920s and 1930s. Polyethylene came into being in 1933. In the 1940s and 1950s, there was a boom in the emergence of new polymers. Polypropylene, expanded polystyrene and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) all emerged during these decades. Nowadays, people commonly use these materials in bottles, building insulations, packaging and cups.

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