Plastics can be bent and shaped in various ways which means that it is a very helpful material because it can be used for many different things, such as toothbrushes, car bodies and toilet seats. During the production of plastic, natural products such as salt, cellulose, coal, natural gas and crude oil are being used. The first step of the production is the distillation process in an oil refinery.
The heavy crude oil is separated from the lighter crude oil which is called fraction. The fraction is made up of hydrocarbon chains. Naphtha is one of the necessary fractions during the plastic production. Polycondensation and polymerisation are the two major processes and in polymerisation monomers are put together to form polymer chains.
Different type of plastics are categorized into thermoplastics and thermosets. Choosing into which category plastic fals under is dependent on how it responds to heat. In thermoplastics, when heating, it does not degrade. Additionally, thermoplastics liquify. Some thermoplastics are polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride. The chemical change can not be reversed when looking at thermosets and they are only allowed to be heated once.
When heating it again, it will start to burn. The oldest historical records found of natural made plastic was from 1284. The first men using plastic were the mesoamericans in 1600 BC.
They used natural rubber for bands and balls. In the middle ages, treated cattle horn was used for windows in lanterns. The discovery of rubber was used to protect cotton from moisturizing, which was discovered by Macintosh in 1823. During the Industrial Revolution, in 1844, Charles Goodyear patented the discovery of vulcanization in the United States and Thomas Hancock patented it in Britain.
Parkesine was the first man-made plastic, which was patented by Alexander Parkes in 1856. In 1872, Eugen Baumann accidentally synthesized vinyl. In the 1890s, Wilhelm Krische and Adolph Spitteler developed Casein, which is derived from milk proteins. Many difficulties are caused through the use of plastic. Plastic is overused and it causes a problem because it is not easily disposable and it pollutes the air when burned. Polluted air affects the health of humans and animals. Through the fishing nets, that are made out of plastic, local wildlife is harmed and pollutants enter the water.
The nets leak toxins and parts of it get lost in the ocean. The food chain is disrupted due to plastic. Many small organisms get poisoned through the ingestion of plastic, which means that large animals lose their food source.
Not only does it disrupt the food chain, but it also means that the fish we eat everyday possibly include plastic. Plastic has already affected the economy because it costs millions to clean the areas of exposure. The economy of some areas are affected because there is less tourism due to the pollution. Beside the negative aspects of plastic, there are some advances in our way of living and industries.
Plastic is used in construction industries. It is used for flooring, pipes, windows, doors, railings, panels, etc. They are easy to handle and can resist corrosion. Plastic is also used in transportation, which leads to more power efficient service in vehicles. Because plastic is so flexible, it is used for house wiring and appliances such as microwaves, ovens, irons, hair dryers and coffee makers.
Plastic enabled to store the electronics in a computer into an insulated environment and it enabled to turn components such as circuit boards and computer chips into a smaller scale without damaging their abilities. Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem that is critically looked at by scientists and the government. It would be difficult to remove plastic from the environment due to its high costs, but it is possible to solve the problem through limiting the use of plastic. What we as an individual can do is; only use reusable bags when going grocery shopping, don’t buy any plastic bags or bottles, educate others about the alternatives and recycle.
It is challenging to have an impact on the world as an individual, but there are several companies that influence the society through marketing. For example, sodastream enables us to make our own drinks in reusable bottles. 5 gyres is another company, which raises awareness to the problem, conducts research and runs events concerning the topic. Another way of solving the problem is banning plastic bottles and bags, which whole foods is currently doing. Governments can immensely increase the fees on food containers and plastic bags. An idea of solving the problem was created by a chemist called Swaminathan Ramesh who had the idea of creating a reactor that takes the plastic and turns it into gasoline.
The catalyst reacting with pyrolysis will create the fuel from polystyrenes and polyethylenes. He thought of putting those reactors onto ships and directly putting the gasoline given into the tanks.