What is plastic?

Plastic is the general common term for a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials used in a huge, and growing, range of applications.

Everywhere you look you will find plastics. We use plastic products to help make our lives cleaner, easier, safer and more enjoyable. You will find plastics in the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, and the cars we travel in. The toys we play with, the televisions we watch, the computers we use and the CDs we listen to contain plastics. Even the toothbrush you use every day contains plastics!

Plastics are organic, the same as wood, paper or wool. The raw materials for plastics production are natural products such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course, crude oil. Plastics are today’s and tomorrow’s materials of choice because they make it possible to balance modern day needs with environmental concerns.

The term ‘’plastic’’ is derived from the Greek word ''plastikos'' meaning fit for moulding, and ''plastos'' meaning moulded. It refers to the material’s malleability, or plasticity during manufacture, that allows it to be cast, pressed, or extruded into a variety of shapes - such as films, fibres, plates, tubes, bottles, boxes, and much more.

There are two broad categories of plastic materials: thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics. Thermoplastics can be heated up to form products and then if these end products are re-heated, the plastic will soften and melt again.  In contrast, thermoset plastics can be melted and formed, but once they take shape after they have solidified, they stay solid and, unlike thermoplastics cannot be remelted.

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