What is plastic and how is it made?



Plastics are made from oil. Oil is a carbon-rich raw material, and plastics are large carbon-containing compounds.

Plastics are simply chains of like molecules, called polymers,  linked together. This is why many plastics begin with “poly,” such as polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene. Polymers often are made of carbon and hydrogen and sometimes oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, chlorine, fluorine, phosphorous, or silicon.

The first synthetic plastic was made from the plant material cellulose. In 1869, John Wesley Hyatt, an American printer and inventor, found that cellulose nitrate could be used as an inexpensive substitute for ivory. The mixture could be plasticized with the addition of camphor. Celluloid, as this new material was called, became the only plastic of commercial importance for 30 years. It was used for eyeglass frames, combs, billiard balls, shirt collars, buttons, dentures, and photographic film.

In 1951, two young research chemists for Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Okla., made discoveries that revolutionized the plastics world. Today, the plastics they discovered—polypropylene and polyethylene—are used to produce the vast majority of the thousands of plastics products all over the world.

How does petroleum become plastic?

1. Petroleum is drilled and transported to a refinery.

2. Crude oil and natural gas are refined into ethane, propane, hundreds of other petrochemical products and, of course, fuel for your car.

3. Ethane and propane are “cracked” into ethylene and propylene, using high-temperature furnaces.

4. A catalyst is combined with ethylene or propylene in a reactor, resulting in “fluff,” a powdered material (polymer) resembling laundry detergent.

5. Fluff is combined with additives in a continuous blender.

6. Polymer is fed to an extruder where it is melted.

7. Melted plastic is cooled then fed to a pelletizer that cuts the product into small pellets.

8. Pellets are shipped to customers.

9. Customers manufacture plastic products by using processes such as the following:

Extrusion: Pellets are heated and mechanically mixed in a long chamber, forced through a small opening and cooled with air or water. This method is used to make plastic films.

Injection molding: The resin pellets are heated and mechanically mixed in a chamber and then forced under high pressure into a cooled mold. This process is used for containers like butter and yogurt tubs. (Custompart.net has a great lesson on injection molding.)

Blow molding: This technique is used in conjunction with extrusion or injection molding. The resin pellets are heated and compressed into a liquid tube, like toothpaste. The resin goes into the chilled mold, and compressed air gets blown into the resin tube. The air expands the resin against the walls of the mold. This process is used to make plastic bottles.

Rotational molding: The resin pellets are heated and cooled in a mold that can be rotated in three dimensions. The rotation evenly distributes the plastic along the walls of the mold. This technique is used to make large, hollow plastic items (toys, furniture, sporting equipment, septic tanks, garbage cans and kayaks).


Step 5: Say NO to Bottled water!


This is a difficult switch for most people as we have all been so brainwashed that bottled/mineral water is better for us than any other water that if you mention that you drink tap water, people goggle at you as though you just said you are a cannibal! Did you know that in the United States (the largest consumer of bottled water), 24 percent of bottled water sold is either Pepsi’s Aquafina or Coke’s Dasani and that both brands are bottled, purified municipal water? ARGH! Not to forget the harsh reality that the plastic bottles this water comes in, take 400-1000 years to degrade, are single use and do not guarantee that chemicals – like Bisphenol A or BPA, the plasticizer used to make clear, hard plastic,  leach onto the water with prolonged keep or when exposed to sunlight or a heat source. WHAT?! What chemical leakage? Have a look here, from breast cancer.org Scary, huh?

Only 10% of the cost of bottled water goes to the actual water, the other 90% goes to the packaging, transportation and marketing.

Here is what you should do:

  1. Check the safety of your tap water, from your municipality. If it is safe, DRINK IT!
  2. If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, I strongly suggest you use a filter which you can either put into the plumbing or stick to your tap or, buy a  flask with a changeable filter. I am not keen on these flasks as most are made from plastic. I have a filter I stick on to my tap and every x time, I change the filtering cartridge – easy peasy, no more lugging of 8 litre plastic bottles, no more stress because “The water just finished, OMG!”(End of the world). The filter with a new cartridge is about 50€ and subsequent cartridges (to be changed every 3 months) cost about 25€. Doesn’t sound cheap but, I was spending about 46€ buying bottled water in the same time frame!
  3. If your tap water is unsafe, boil your water. Not everyone can afford filters and this is a good option to kill most germs. You can also use a water purifier with a pump or an ultraviolet purifier.

There, you can check another item off your initial list 🙂