My inquiry question is: How can education help reduce plastic consumption?
Plastics pervade all aspects of society. We sleep on plastic-filled pillows, clean our teeth with plastic toothbrushes, type on plastic keyboards, and eat food from plastic containers – it’s impossible to go through a day without encountering plastics. (1)
As understanding the usage of plastics is essential before I further proceed to answer my inquiry question, I’ll be writing about the FAQ research relating to plastics in Blog #3!
“When was plastics made in the first place? Why were they made?”
By mid 19th century, many animal-derived materials had become increasingly scarce. Elephants were near extinction as there’s high demand for their ivory used in items from piano keys to billiard balls, continued. In 1869, a New York firm offered $10,000 for anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory, this was when all sorts of revolutionary findings began.
The first synthetic plastics made was by John Wesley Hyatt. Plastics were derived from cellulose, a substance found in plants and trees to create the first synthetic polymer. Cellulose was heated with chemicals and resulted in a new material that was extremely durable. (2)
The discovery was revolutionary. For the first time, manufacturing was not constrained by the limits of nature.
In 1907, Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first commercially successful plastic and fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature. His idea from making Bakelite was to make a synthetic substitute for shellac, a natural electrical insulator; as to meet the needs of the rapidly electrifying United States.
Bakelite was marketed as “the material of a thousand uses”, as they said Bakelite could be shaped or molded into almost anything, providing endless possibilities. The advertisements led many inventors to invest in the newly created plastics, which was when the number of plastic manufacturing peaked. (3)
“How many types of plastic are there to exist today?”
Plastic is a complex material, just as its production, distribution and consumption are. However, there are still tons of different plastics out there; all made from different materializations! 6 of the most common types of plastics are:
1) Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
It’s lightweight, strong, typically transparent and is often used in food packaging and fabrics (polyester).
Usage examples: Beverage bottles, Food bottles/jars (salad dressing, peanut butter, honey, etc.) and polyester clothing or rope.
2) High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Most common plastic in the world, but it’s classified into three types: High-Density, Low-Density and Linear Low-Density. High-Density Polyethylene is strong and resistant to moisture and chemicals, which makes it ideal for cartons, containers, pipes and other building materials.
(The most environment-friendly plastic found as it’s one of the safest forms of plastic, making it a great option for both reuse and recycling)
Usage examples: Milk cartons, detergent bottles, cereal box liners, toys, buckets, park benches and rigid pipes.
3) Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl)
Widely used plastic in medical applications because it’s impermeable to germs, is easily disinfected and provides single-use applications that reduce infections in healthcare.
Usage examples: Plumbing pipes, credit cards, human and pet toys, rain gutters, teething rings, IV fluid bags and medical tubing and oxygen masks.
4) Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Often used as a liner inside beverage cartons, and in corrosion-resistant work surfaces and other products.
Usage examples: Plastic/cling wrap, sandwich and bread bags, bubble wrap, garbage bags, grocery bags and beverage cups.
5) Polypropylene (PP)
Most durable types of plastic. It is more heat resistant than some others, which makes it ideal for such things as food packaging and food storage that’s made to hold hot items or be heated itself.
Usage examples: Straws, bottle caps, prescription bottles, hot food containers, packaging tape, disposable diapers and DVD/CD boxes (remember those!).
Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam) is Low-cost and insulates very well; which has made it a staple in the food, packaging and construction industries.
Examples: Cups, takeout food containers, shipping and product packaging, egg cartons, cutlery and building insulation.
This category is a catch-all for other types of plastic that don’t belong in any of the other six categories or are combinations of multiple types. We include it because you might occasionally come across the #7 recycling code, so it’s important to know what it means. The most important thing here is that these plastics aren’t typically recyclable.
Examples: Eyeglasses, baby and sports bottles, electronics, CD/DVDs, lighting fixtures and clear plastic cutlery.
“How are plastics made?”
Plastic isn’t simply made of one material made the same way every time. Most plastics are similarly made in all companies, they can either be ‘synthetic’ or ‘biobased’. Synthetic plastics are made from crude oil, natural gas or coal while Biobased plastics are made from renewable products such as carbohydrates, starch, vegetable fats and oils, bacteria and other biological substances. (5)
Types of plastic manufacturing processes:
- 3D Printing
- CNC Machining
- Polymer Casting
- Rotational Molding
- Vacuum Forming
- Injection Molding
- Blow Molding
A common toxic chemical in plastics is Bisphenol-A, or BPA; which is a hormone disruptor linked to a whole host of health problems. The good news is that the FDA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and children’s sippy cups in 2012. However, it’s likely still found in many other plastics. (6)
Thanks for reading my Blog #3! I hope my research gave a good base understanding of plastics:)
Questions answered about plastics:
“When and why were plastics invented?”
– Who came up with the idea?
– What year did purchase in plastics peak in?
– What gave the inventor of plastics the idea of making them?
“How many types of plastic are there to exist today?”
– Do they all serve different usage?
– How different are they from each other? (SHOWN INDIVIDUALLY IN NUMBER POINTS)
– Which type of plastic is better for the environment? (TALKED ABOUT IN #2)
“How are plastics made?”
– Can they be made from natural resources?
– Are harmful chemicals involved in the process of making?
– Do different factories make plastics differently?
By: Tiffany Yao
Wow your post is so informative! It was an awesome read. Your research was incredibly thorough and clear, plus you organized the blog post very well so that it is easy and engaging to read. It is great that you spent the time explaining each plastic type and example, then gave a summary at the end. I found the history especially interesting, because if you think about it if that company had never offered a reward, plastic may never have been invented or at least not when it was. It is strange to think about and also how different our society would be without plastic.
I did a bit of research and found that these links might help you for the future:
Best of luck!
Thanks for giving me those useful links Chantal! The history of plastics was also my favorite topic I researched in this blog:) I’m super glad you found everything interesting and informative, appreciate your comment!
Hello Tiffany! I enjoyed reading your blog post as I can really tell how much effort you put into writing all the facts, and the information. This research question can be very impactful especially with the envoirnment beiung at its worse, so being educated on it correctly is a way all of us can help with the pollution and the climate change that is being caused by plastic.
Here is a link to an article that may help you think of more smaller questions to your topic!
Hi! Thanks for providing me with the helpful links. I’m glad you enjoyed reading my blog as much as I enjoyed researching about it:) I completely agree with you on how important it is for people to be educated about plastics; especially since almost everyone’s back at school now!