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Hazards of Polymers

Hazards of Polymers

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Published by Talha Shaukat
Thermosets, Thermoplastics, Elastomers, Environmental Effects
Thermosets, Thermoplastics, Elastomers, Environmental Effects

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Talha Shaukat on Feb 27, 2013
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04/06/2015

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Environmental Hazards of Polymers
 
Introduction
 
“In today's world, life without plastics is incomprehensible”. That is very true, plastics are
extremely necessary in our modern society, but some of the current use and misuse is notsustainable. A more sustainable use of plastics can be achieved by many measures. There is alarge potential for reducing the per capita use in the industrialized world, for instance byeliminating excessive packaging material and practicing material reduction whenever possible.By developing more plastics based on bio-based raw materials, the great dependence on non-renewable crude oil and the environmental consequences of crude oil extraction and refining, aswell as the contribution to global warming during the end of life phase, can be decreased.Persistence is desired in many applications for long term use, but for short term and single useapplications, especially in the packaging sector, the use and further development of  biodegradable plastic materials that are fully degradable in the natural environment, areimportant. Recycling of plastics involve problems since a homogeneous fraction is needed for asimilar grade end-product, but the recycling could be facilitated by practicing Eco design for recyclability and systems for collecting recyclable fractions. Increased recovery (mechanical,chemical or energy recovery) when possible, saves resources and decreases the area needed for landfill. Global action and strong measures to reduce littering are essential to protect our oceans,coastlines, fresh water ecosystems and also our terrestrial environment.
 
Polymers are substances whose molecules have high molar masses and are composed of a largenumber of repeating units. There are both naturally occurring and synthetic polymers. Amongnaturally occurring polymers are proteins, starches, cellulose, and latex. Synthetic polymers are produced commercially on a very large scale and have a wide range of properties and uses. Thematerials commonly called plastics are all synthetic polymers.
 
Polymers are formed by chemicalreactions in which a large number of molecules called monomers are joined sequentially,forming a chain. In many polymers, only one monomer is used. In others, two or three differentmonomers may be combined.
Types
 
There are different types of polymers but generally polymers are classified into two types thatare:
 
 Natural Polymers
 
Synthetic PolymersSynthetic polymers are further classified into three main classes that are:
 
Thermosets
 
 
Thermoplastics
 
Elastomers
Thermosets
 
Those polymers that are not be converted or reshaped by melting them, or the polymers thatcannot be recycled.
Examples
 
 
Fluorocarbons
 
 
Epoxy resins
 
 
Melamine resins, etc.
 Thermoplastics
 Those polymers that can be converted or reshaped by melting them, or the polymers that areeasily recyclable.
Examples
 
 
Polypropylene
 
Polyethylene
 
PET, etc.
Applications
 
Production of plastic materials started on an industrial scale in the1940s and 1950s. In the last 15years the global annual production of plastics has doubled, reaching 245 million tons in 2008.
 
Plastic packaging protects food and goods from getting wasted and/or contaminated andthereby saves resources.
 
The light weight packaging material (due to high strength-to-weight ratio) saves fuel anddecreases emissions during transportation.
 
Plastic water supply systems and storage containers/tanks provide clean water.
 
Light plastic materials (replacing metals) in cars and aircraft save fuel and decreasesemissions.
 
Efficient plastic insulation materials in buildings save energy and provide climate protection.
 
Plastic protective clothing and safety equipment (e.g. fire proof materials, helmets, air  bags) protects form injury.
 
Plastic products for medical applications are very important and contribute to improvedheath (e.g. blood pouches, tubings, disposable syringes, prosthesis).
 
 
Solar heaters and solar panels, in parts made of plastics, provide renewable energy.
Figure 1 Life Cycle of Plastic
 
Environmental Effects
 
 Now a days polymer are used in almost every field of life in different forms like plastics,rubbers, fibers etc. hence there production is very large to meet the demand of the society. Theyhave eased the life of a man but there are some disadvantages also, that are related to polymersdirectly. Especially there impact on the environment is very hazardous to the eco-system.
 
For workers in the plastics industry the main route of exposure to toxic substances is by inhalationand absorption through the lungs, which according to Lokensgard and Richardson (2004)accounts for nearly 90 percent of the toxic symptoms observed in the plastics industry. This isquite expected since many of the hazardous chemicals used in plastic production are volatileorganic compounds (VOCs). The VOCs are mainly emitted during the production phase, but alsoduring the use and the end of life phase. This causes indoor air pollution which may be harmfulfor human health. VOCs also contribute to elevated ground-level ozone levels which maydamage vegetation, can irritate the respiratory system, aggravate asthma and lung diseases, cause permanent lung damage, and affect the immune system.

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