Types of Plastics

Plastics are a very diverse material with unique properties and uses. They are used across many industries from foodservice to electronics to automotive. Plastics have a wide range of properties such as high strength and durability, but are also highly versatile and can be molded into various shapes and sizes. They are resistant to chemicals and can withstand a high range of temperatures. This combination of versatility and resistance to a wide range of conditions makes them an ideal material for a variety of applications.

The vast majority of plastics are organic polymers. They are made of long carbon chains called monomers that link together to form a continuous molecular structure. This allows them to be shaped and manipulated in ways that are not possible with other materials. The polymer’s properties are primarily determined by its atomic structure, with the backbone of the chain forming a large number of repeating units. Different side chains – which are hung off the main chain – are then added to modify the plastic’s characteristics and add specific functions.

There are six types of plastics that most people will be familiar with. PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) is one of the most common, and is found in drinks bottles, plastic tubing, plastic bags and other food containers. It is extremely durable and can be recycled many times over, making it a great choice for foodservice.

Another popular plastic is HDPE (high-density polyethylene). It is soft, tough, and can withstand a high level of stress. It is also known for having a low risk of leaching into foods and liquids, making it a good choice for milk jugs, yogurt containers and other products. It can also be recycled into pens, plastic lumber and picnic tables.

PP (polypropylene) is another commodity plastic that can be used in a variety of ways. It is very strong and can withstand a high temperature, which makes it perfect for kitchenware, car parts, thermal vests, and disposable diapers. It is also very fatigue-resistant, which means it will not easily deform over time, and this is why it is often used for living hinges on items like laptop covers.

There are a number of other high-performance plastics that have exceptional qualities, such as conductive plastics, biodegradable plastics and engineering plastics. These have a lower market share than the commodity plastics, but are very useful for a wide range of applications.