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A Reseacrch Paper

Submitted By:
ACH111 – 1M
BSED- Biology

March 2018
Plastics are the most versatile materials in our modern world, which means we can mold

them into different shapes of various things - from toothbrushes, some plates and glasses, most

containers and so many more.

Plastics are plastic, which means they are soft and easy to turn into many different forms

during manufacture. These are mostly synthetic, human-made materials. It is composed of

polymers, long molecules built around chains of carbon atoms, typically with hydrogen, oxygen,

sulfur and nitrogen filling in the spaces.

There are several types of plastics according to where it is made up. The first one is the

natural plastics where these are obtained from plants and animals. Very common example of this

plastic is from the animal horns and milks that is used for making glue, and from trees like

rubber tress that provide rubbers from its trunk juices. The second one are the synthetic plastics

where these are the type of plastic that is artificially made by complex chemical processes and

most of the known and used plastics falls in this category. Then lastly, the bioplastics are plastics

artificially made yet it is gathered from natural ingredients. Plant bottles used as the container of

several brand of soft drinks and bottled water is the most common bioplastic that have been put

on market worldwide.

The next classification of plastic is the observation of its behavior when heated. When a

plastic can be remelted back into liquid, it is a thermoplastic. The polymer of this kind of plastics

become pliable or moldable above a specific temperature and solidifies upon cooling. It has high

molecular weight that weakens rapidly due to the weak intermolecular forces associating

polymer chains. Thermosets are the other type of plastic in terms of its reaction with heat.

Thermoset plastics contain polymers that cross-link together during the curing process to form an

irreversible chemical bond. The cross-linking process eliminates the risk of the product remelting
when heat is applied, making thermosets ideal for high-heat applications such as electronics and

appliances. It significantly improves the material’s mechanical properties, providing enhances

chemical resistance, heat resistance and structural integrity. Thermoset plastics are often used for

sealed products due to their resistance to deformation.

Plastic are very diverse, so they create a system in which they can categorize plastics before

recycling. The first groups are known as the Polyethylene Terephthalate or #1 or PET, these are

the most commonly used plastics in consumer products, and are found in most water and pop

bottles, and some packaging. It is intended for single use applications; repeated use increases the

risk of leaching and bacterial growth. PET plastic is difficult to decontaminate, and proper

cleaning requires harmful chemicals. Polyethylene terephthalates may leach carcinogens. The

next one is the High-Density Polyethylene or #2 or HDPE plastic is the stiff plastic used to make

milk jugs, detergent and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. HDPE is the most commonly

recycled plastic and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. It is a relatively simple and

cost-effective process to recycle HDPE plastic for secondary use. The Polyvinyl Chloride or #3

or PVC is a soft, flexible plastic used to make clear plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles,

teething rings, children’s and pets’ toys, and blister packaging for myriad consumer products. It

is commonly used as the sheathing material for computer cables, and to make plastic pipes and

parts for plumbing. Because PVC is relatively impervious to sunlight and weather, it is used to

make window frames, garden hoses, arbors, raised beds and trellises. Low-Density Polyethylene

or #4 or LDPE is often found in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, squeezable bottles, and

the type of plastic bags used to package bread. The plastic grocery bags used in most stores today

are made using LDPE plastic. Some clothing and furniture also uses this type of plastic.

Polypropylene or #5 or PP plastic is tough and lightweight, and has excellent heat-resistance

qualities. It serves as a barrier against moisture, grease and chemicals. When you try to open the

thin plastic liner in a cereal box, it is polypropylene. This keeps your cereal dry and fresh. PP is

also commonly used for disposable diapers, pails, plastic bottle tops, margarine and yogurt

containers, potato chip bags, straws, packing tape and rope. Polystyrene, in the other hand, also

known as #6 or PS plastic is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily-formed plastic with a wide

variety of uses. It is most often used to make disposable styrofoam drinking cups, take-out

“clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and those

ubiquitous “peanut” foam chips used to fill shipping boxes to protect the contents. Polystyrene is

also widely used to make rigid foam insulation and underlay sheeting for laminate flooring used

in home construction. And the last category is group into #7 which is composed of BPA,

Polycarbonate and LEXAN and other plastics with the same composition or not included into the

above mentioned categories. This category was designed as a catch-all for polycarbonate (PC)

and “other” plastics, so reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category.

Of primary concern with #7 plastics, however, is the potential for chemical leaching into food or

drink products packaged in polycarbonate containers made using BPA (Bisphenol A). BPA is a

xenoestrogen, a known endocrine disruptor.

The plastics industry has conformed to regulations by applying the required codes to

consumer products, but it is up to individuals to read and understand the codes. By understanding

these simple classifications, we can best use plastics to our advantage while minimizing the

health and disposal issues that may otherwise arise.

According to a 2009 report in "Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B," a

British science journal, plastics can cause a wide variety of adverse effects to people and the
environment. Chemicals in plastics are absorbed by human bodies, and some of these

compounds can change the structure of hormones. Plastic debris waste is often ingested by

seafaring creatures, and the chemicals therein can poison all manner of wildlife. Floating plastic

waste can survive for dozens of centuries and disrupt habitats by shuttling microbes to and fro.

Perhaps most ominously, plastics buried in landfills can leach harmful chemicals into

groundwater and therefore into the water supply, and the BPA in polycarbonate bottles can

contaminate beverages.

For more than 50 years, global production of plastic, mostly PET, has continued to rise.

Some 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 4 percent increase over

2012. Recovery and recycling, however, remain insufficient, and millions of tons of plastics end

up in landfills and oceans each year, writes Gaelle Gourmelon, Communications and Marketing

Manager at the Worldwatch Institute, in the Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online article.

Yet, there are many solutions with this problem. Such solution is to turn the plastics into fuels in

an environment friendly manner. With the use of technology plastics are shredded and then

heated in an oxygen-free chamber (known as pyrolysis) to about 400 degrees celsius. A typical

plastic waste contains some 18000 to 20000 BTU/lb versus fuel oil at around 21,000 BTU/lb and

as the plastics boil, gas is separated out and often reused to fuel the machine itself. The fuel is

then distilled and filtered. Because the entire process takes place inside a vacuum and the plastic

is melted – not burned, minimal to no resultant toxins are released into the air, as all the gases

and or sludge are reused to fuel the machine. In this process we can turn plastics into a more

useful thing.

Some plastics are characterized being biodegradable due to its biodegradable polymers

which are specific type of polymer that breaks down after its intended purpose to result in natural
byproducts such as gases (CO2, N2), water, biomass, and inorganic salts. These polymers are

found both naturally and synthetically made, and largely consist of ester, amide, and ether

functional groups. Their properties and breakdown mechanism are determined by their exact

structure. These polymers are often synthesized by condensation reactions, ring opening

polymerization, and metal catalysts. There are vast examples and applications of biodegradable


Bio-based packaging materials have been introduced as a green alternative in the past decades,

among which, edible films have gained more attention due to their environmentally-friendly

characteristics, vast variety and avail-ability, non-toxicity, and low-cost.



Environmental Health News: The Environmental Toll of Plastics

The Los Angeles Times: "Some "Plastics "Should Be Classified as Hazardous Scientists

The American Chemical Society: Leo Hendrick Baekeland and the Invention of Bakelite

Recycling - Plastics
1) What is plastic? Is it a man-made product or a natural product?
2) Choose a few types of plastics and discuss how they are made. What is a
polymer? Discuss the recycling symbols used for plastics.
3) Toxicity of plastics, both in manufacturing and waste disposal. Are plastics
toxic? Do you drink from a plastic water bottle?
4) How much plastic is recycled in the US, globally (be specific with each type of
5) Can plastics be burned safely and used as a fuel? What is the BTU content of
plastic when burned? Give a definition for BTU.
6) Biodegradable plastics –what structural features make it biodegradable?
7) What is the current status of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean. What is being
done to clean up this mess?
8) How long does it take for plastic to decompose in a landfill? In the ocean?
9) Does this information make you reconsider purchasing things that are contained
in a plastic container?