What is plastic?
The question “what is plastic?” is often asked and it is a big question that actually does not have only one answer.
Plastic is not just a single material but many, and it’s used in your sneakers, contact lenses, cars, mobile phones and flower pots.
40%, slightly less than half of the plastic we use in Europe, can be found in packaging, but also the construction and automotive industries use plastic. This is because the material is lighter and more durable than others. Common plastics you often encounter in your everyday life are Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP) and Polyester (PET).
Plastic can be modified with different additives that gives the materials very different properties.
In addition, plastic can be reused. What was once food packaging can be recycled into a flower pot or perhaps cable insulation. It becomes a cycle and therefore it’s important that we all sort and recycle our waste. So the next time you get the question “what is plastic?”, you can answer that it is several different materials.
How is plastic made?
Plastics are manufactured from, among other things, fossil fuels such as crude oil and natural gas, but also from renewable raw materials such as carbon dioxide, algae, corn, sugar cane (as in the picture above), potatoes and wood. From these, you take out small molecules, called monomers, and bind together in a chain to a large molecule. The process is called polymerization, and the result is a polymer, which is the finished plastic raw material.
The polymer can be modified with various additives that give the materials very different properties, both when they are used but also when they become waste. Some materials will degrade in a compost, others will not.
Bioplastics is a broad concept and can be anything from oil-based but degradable to bio-based but not degradable. Both bio-based and degradable are, of course also available. Scanfill is represented in all four quadrants in the image.