Plastic is a very large group of materials used in areas ranging from household goods to medical implants, paint and sunglasses.

Plastics are generally considered synthetic, although there are also natural ones.
The first synthetic plastic was made in the early 1900s but the majority of plastics
were developed after WW1, when the chemical technology exploded.

Plastics are divided into two categories:

  • Thermoplastics - can be melted and re-moulded again and again and again
  • Thermosets - after being moulded and solidified, they cannot be
    re-moulded. The solidifying process involves a chemical reaction (curing/cross-likning) which is irreversible

Some plastics can be both thermoplastic and thermoset, depending on the molecule structure and ingredients used. The table below lists some examples from both categories.



Plastic Properties Products
Polyethylene (PE, LDPE, HDPE) Soft to rigid depending on type, gas-tight, chemical resistant, cheap to expensive depending on type Cling foil, household goods, supermarket bags, plastic bottles
Polyamide (Nylon, PA) Strong and light-weight Fibres, textiles (stockings), fishing lines, car engine mouldings
Polyvinylchloride (PVC) Soft to rigid depending on type, flame- chemical- & weather resistant Plumbing pipes, window frames, rainwear, boots, flooring
Polyester (PES) Strong and light-weight, low water absorption Fibres, textiles, clothing, furniture upholstery, Velcro
Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon, PTFE) Heat and chemical resistant, low friction, very expensive Non-stick surfaces
Polystyrene (PS) Rigid, hard, brittle, low weight Packaging foam, disposable cups/plates/cutlery
Polycarbonate (PC) Rigid, strong, glass-clear, good chemical resistance, expensive CDs, eyeglasses, visors
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) Strong, impact resistant, glass-clear, good gas and moisture barrier, light-weight Carbonated drinks bottles, micro-waveable packaging
Polymethylmetacrylate (PMMA) Rigid, strong but brittle, glass-clear, good chemical resistance, cheap Windows (Plexi-glass), visor, lenses for car lights




Plastic Properties Products
Epoxy plastics Heat and chemical resistant, electrically insulating, good adhesion High strength adhesives, composites (fibre-glass)
Phenol plastics (Bakelit) Electrically insulating, heat and chemical resistant, hard, brittle Electrical plugs and switches, brake pads
Polyurethane Strong and light-weight, abrasion resistant, heat resistant Foam mattresses (Tempur), rollers
  • Last updated 2/20/2020
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