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The 7 Most Common Types of Plastics and Their Everyday Uses
Plastic is one of the most versatile materials on the globe. Comprised of several man-made polymers, this substance goes into making many of our modern-day products and luxuries. In fact, you may not even know all of plastic’s potential applications. However, contrary to popular belief, there isn’t just one type of plastic in the world. There is a plethora of different formulas, each with their own physical and chemical properties to consider.
In understanding some of the different kinds of plastic and how they behave, you can determine which one will work best for your own needs. This way, you have a better chance of creating the quality product you’ve envisioned on the first try. These are the most common types of plastics and their everyday uses.
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET, is the primary resource in a variety of different surfaces. As such, you’re very likely to have some direct contact with it as you go about your daily routine. Due to its customizable formula, PET can have either a rigid or flexible makeup. It’s also incredibly resistant to most weather conditions and abrasive chemical compounds. Because of this, it’s a very effective ingredient in soft drink bottles, water bottles, packaging trays, and fleece. Polyester fabrics contain some PET as well, making PET a vital part of the clothing and fashion industry.
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Classified as the most common plastic in the world, polyethylene has an even broader range of uses in the modern world. In fact, this material is so diverse that it takes on other subcategories labeled high-density and low-density to better classify their differences. High-density polyethylene is very strong and resistant to large quantities of moisture and corrosive chemicals. It has very little give, yet it can bounce back effectively from minor blunt impact. Because of its ability to avoid breaking down, it’s also frequently used in food containers. However, some of its more demanding applications are in the form of building materials like park benches and pipes. As such, HDPE plays an important role in many current construction builds and infrastructure endeavors.
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
On the other hand, while low-density polyethylene (LDPE) contains many of the base properties of HDPE, it is significantly weaker. Due to the extra space between its molecules, this compound doesn’t have the same amount of temperature protection. It also isn’t as strong and can break with less force than its counterpart. But there are a series of applications that don’t require this heightened strength. As such, LDPE is, believe it or not, more commonly used for basic products than HDPE. It is often used in trays, food containers, work surfaces, machine components, protective cases, and laundry bags.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Polyvinyl chloride is a very hard, rigid plastic that’s known for its high amount of strength and general resilience to the environment. Most signs of weathering don’t apply to this material, and even chemicals have little effect on it. For this reason, PVC is one of the most important resources for highly demanding industrial tasks. This includes the processing of heavy materials and food, as well as uses in building construction resources and conveyor belting.
PVC even has electricity-resistant properties, meaning that items made from this material don’t conduct or distribute electrical currents. This opens up an entirely new range of uses in high-tech industries. However, it’s important to note that PVC is one of the most dangerous plastic compounds to produce due to its chemical makeup. So, it’s used sparingly to fulfill very specific needs.
Another of the most common types of plastic to make note of it polypropylene, or PP. Very hard, strong, and flexible, this plastic is the number one option for use in injection molding processes. Though PP has a very high resistance to temperature, injection molding can melt it with ease and fit it into whatever form necessary. It’s also considered safe to use around food as it won’t leech chemicals or toxins into organic matter. For this reason, PP has a diverse series of uses that make it beneficial for many industries.
Some noteworthy applications for polypropylene include:
- Surgery tools and supplies
- Hobby models and figurines
- Packing tape
- Food containers
Would you believe that the packing material known as styrofoam is also a type of plastic material? It is, and its official name is polystyrene. PS is very rigid and flexible, allowing it to take any custom shape without the risk of breaking. It’s lost-cost, lightweight, and versatile, making it highly desirable for businesses looking to save a bit of money on packaging. Though PS isn’t very strong, it makes great containers for lighter items, such as food or produce. It also has a widely-known application as packaging material in shipment containers. Depending on the scale of the build, polystyrene can even find use as insulation material.
However, it's important to mention that PS doesn’t retain its chemical makeup very well. This means that it has the potential to leech toxins into the environment around it upon decay. So, you should never store food in these bins for long periods of time.
For engineering purposes, there are few options better than polycarbonate. One of the strongest plastics available, it’s shatterproof and impact-resistant—even more-so than acrylic. Despite its strength, PC is still very flexible. It’s available in sheet form or cut and molded on-site as needed. Polycarbonate makes a superior material for any high-density builds. This includes greenhouse walls, DVDs, sunglasses, and heavy-duty police gear. Hockey rink barriers are also often made from PC, as these areas typically require high-impact protection for the safety of observers.
Whether you’re looking to learn more about plastics or want access to a series of useful plastic injection molded products, we at Polymer Molding are the experts for you. With several decades of experience as plastic cap manufacturers, our team of engineers knows just how to craft the right product for you. We produce a wide array of products, including caps, plugs, netting, and inserts for you to consider. We’re also always available to answer any questions you have about the materials and processes. Give us a call today to request a free sample or order quote.
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