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The World of Plastics and Polymers

In 1907 Leo Bakeland patented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic polymer. This hard plastic was used as an electrical insulator and paved the way for the more than 60,000 different synthetic plastics on the market today. Each year companies manufacture more than 30 million tons of plastics that are used in myriad of applications. We wear clothes containing polyester and nylon fibers, eat food packaged in polyethylene containers, drink water delivered through polyvinyl chloride pipes, walk on carpets made of polyolefin fibers, and sleep on mattresses made of polyurethane foam. The variety of applications of synthetic polymers is mind-boggling. The table lists some of the major classes of polymers and describes some of their useful properties and uses.

Uses of Polymers




neoprene very chemical resistant, rubbery shoe soles, hoses, radiator hoses, wetsuits
fibrous, strong, durable, moisture resistant parachutes, carpet, ropes, form-fitting skiwear, hosiery, swimware, boat sails
polyacrylonitrile resinous, fibrous, or rubbery, combines with butadiene and styrene to form hard, tough ABS copolymer ABS plumbing pipe, structural panels, kettle handles, housewares; Orlon fabric
polychloro-trifluoroethylene can be molded by extrusion, chemically resistant gaskets, linings for containers, parts for valves and pumps
polyester fibers recover quickly after extension and absorb very little moisture. filters, conveyor belts, sleeping bag insulation, coat insulation, tire cords. Brand name polymers include: Dacron , Fortrel , Terylene ; Mylar & Lexan .
(high-density ) HDPE
can be easily formed into lightweight containers milk, water, and juice containers; toys, liquid detergent bottles
(low-density) LDPE
can be stretched into fine, tough, films. bread bags, frozen food bags, grocery bags
polyethylene terephthalate
strong, easily moldable, chemically resistant, light-weight soft drink bottles, peanut butter jars, salad dressing bottles, nonbreakable bottles
polyolefin fiber composed of at least 85% polyethylene or polypropylene hosiery, sportswear, undergarments, pile fabrics, upholstery, outdoor furniture, indoor carpeting, indoor-outdoor rugs and carpets, filters, marine cordage, automobile seat covers, electrical insulation, carpet backing
polystyrene thermoplastic; resists attack by acids, alkalis, and many solvents, does not absorb water; excellent electrical insulator. Styrofoam cups, grocery store meat trays, fast-food sandwich containers, video cassette cases, compact disk jackets, cafeteria trays, refrigerator insulation
polysulfone tough, strong, stiff, chemically and thermally resistant household and plumbing items, various automotive parts, wire coatings
strong, tough, waxy, nonflammable, chemically resistant, slippery surface, thermally stable Viton : gaskets, bearings, linings for containers and pipes.

Teflon : non-stick cookware, cooking utensils, pump valves, plumbing tape.

polyurethane flexible foams, highly elastic quick drying fibers, or hard-drying films flexible foams: upholstery material, mattresses

rigid foams: cores for airplane wings

fibers: spandex clothing fiber, support hosiery; Lycra , Numa , Spandelle , and Vyrene.

hard films: polyurethane varnishes

polyvinyl alcohol colorless, water-soluble, flammable resin component in: adhesives, emulsifiers, lacquers, coatings, and films
polyvinyl chloride rigid when unplasticized; flexible when plasticized unplasticized form: water pipe, plumbing fittings, phonograph records, synthetic floor tiles, credit cards

plasticized form: raincoats, shower curtains, and packaging films.

polyvinyl fluoride resistant to attack by chemicals or by weathering protective films for: building sidings, pipes, corrosive chemical containers
polyvinylacetate water-insoluble resin carpet backings; film-forming ingredient of water-based (latex) paints, adhesives, lacquers, and cements

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