The Magnificent 7: The Plastics That Make Modern Life Possible

new blogComputer keyboards to smart phones, car components to coffee-cup lids, medical devices to satellites — plastic is essential to much of the technology that makes modern life possible. You may be aware of just how prevalent and important plastic is, but do you ever pause to celebrate the plastics we all use every day? Probably not, but at Polymer Solutions, we sure do!

Seven types of plastic are the most common, versatile and useful in the world. Unless you live in a cave, chances are you’ve got something made out of one or more of these types of plastic within your line of sight right now. The American Chemistry Council details the seven most ubiquitous plastics in the world, and you can visit their website for a description of each. We’re here to point out to you some of the amazing things — both everyday and extraordinary — made from these magnificent seven plastics.

1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) — The workhorse of the plastics world, PET is super useful thanks to its durability, temperature tolerance, resistance to degradation, and ability to block moisture. Just about every type of plastic bottle, from beverages to peanut butter and shampoo to laundry detergent, is made of PET. It’s highly recyclable, and enterprising manufacturers now make everything from carpets to clothing out of recycled PET bottles!

2. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) — PET’s stronger cousin, HDPE keeps cereal fresh in boxes, makes home plumbing systems less likely to leak, helps light up July 4th when used in fireworks and is a favorite type of filament used in 3D printing. Like PET, HDPE is also recyclable.

3. Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) — The first type of polyethylene ever produced, LDPE makes the plastic rings that hold six packs together. In film format, it protects meats, produce and bakery goods in the grocery store. It also helps bring your favorite TV shows into your home when used in coax cable.

4. Polypropylene (PP) — At PSI, PP is near and dear to our hearts. We use it every day in lab equipment! It’s a juggernaut in medical applications, appearing in everything from pill bottles to diagnostic equipment, and inhalers to syringes. PP is also used in condiment bottles and car battery casings!

5. Polystyrene (PS) — Tops in versatility, PS can either be extruded as foam to make sheets (like the trays beneath cuts of meat in the grocery store) or it can be hard and brittle, as it is when used to make plastic cutlery. PS gets your restaurant leftovers home safely in the form of takeout containers and helps keep your home safe when used to create smoke detector housings.

6. Polyurethane (PUR) — Polyurethane gets around, showing up in everything from mattresses to footwear. It’s also the most-common material used for roller coaster wheels, works well as insulation in homes and household appliances, and is frequently used in bandages and wound dressings.

7. Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) — Famously know as acrylic or acrylic glass, PMMA keeps your goldfish comfy and safe in his aquarium home, is commonly used as barriers between the ice rink and stands in hockey arenas, and can help cataract patients regain clear vision when a lens made of PMMA is used to replace an aged, cloudy natural lens within the eye.

Of course, each of these seven plastics has a wealth of other uses. What are your favorite applications of these workhorse plastics? Share with us in the comments.