First Man Made Plastic | History of Plastics

First Man Made Plastic | History of Plastics


Plastic is a human-made polymer where natural polymers include silkwoolcellulose, and latex. Plastic, in a nutshell, meaning human invented or human-made or synthetic, semi-synthetic, non-biodegradable, polymer-based organic compounds of high molecular mass, i.e. carbon bonded or linked in a potent long molecule unbreakable chains of like molecules linked together, evil, devil, essential, multi-convenience.

Plastic is any material that consists of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds that are malleable and can easily mould into solid objects of a variety of shapes. Plastics are organic polymers of high molecular mass. But they generally contain the other substances. Plastics are usually synthetic which is most commonly derived from the petrochemicals among which many are partially natural. Plasticity is a general property of all the materials that are capable of irreversibly deform without even breaking.

Features of plastics

  1. They are of comparatively low cost.
  2. They get manufactured easily.
  3. They are versatile and impervious to water.
  4. These features of plastics make them capable of being used in an enormous and expanding range of products, i.e. from paper clips to spaceships.

The first-ever Plastic- Bakelite:

  1. Bakelite was the world’s first fully synthetic Plastic which was invented in New York in 1907, by Leo Baekeland who coined the term ‘plastics‘.
  2. The fully synthetic Plastic meant that it does not contain any molecule found in nature. Before the contraption of Plastic, the only substances that were capable of being moulded were clays (pottery) and glass. Earlier, these hardened clay and glass were used for storage despite being heavy and brittle. But some natural substances like tree gums and rubber were sticky and moldable as well.
  3. Bakelite is a crosslinked condensation co-polymer of formaldehyde and phenol. It is a type of thermosetting plastic. Bakelite was one of the first plastics which was made from synthetic components. Bakelite was used due to its electrical non-conductivity feature and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings, and such a variety of products as kitchenware, jewellery, pipe stems, children’s toys, and firearms.

Features of Bakelite

  1. It is capable of getting moulded very quickly and hence decreases the production time.
  2. Mouldings are relatively smooth, and they retain their shape and are resistant to heat, scratches, and harmful solvents.
  3. It is resistant to electricity as well, and it is well recognised for its low conductivity.
  4. And it is not flexible.
  5. It has a characteristic or acrid having a sickly sweet or fishy odour.

Formation of Bakelite

  1. On condensation of phenol with formaldehyde, a linear compound is formed which have their rings joined with -CH2 group. This is*Novolac*. This Novolac on heating again with HCHO undergoes crosslinking and ultimately creates Bakelite. Bakelite is a polymer having a chemical name ‘polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride’. It is an early plastic which is a thermosetting phenol-formaldehyde resin. This polymer is formed from a condensation reaction of phenol with formaldehyde.

Bakelite has two forms:

  1. Novolak – it is an intermediate forged when the congregation of phenol is less stoichiometrically. This is thermoplastic having a linear structure.
  2. Resol – Afterwards, the different amount of formaldehyde or HMDA is added, which in return, forms the crosslinks between other chains and ultimately crosslinks the structure. This is Bakelite which is a thermoset.
  3. Bakelite is a thermoset because of these methyl bridges formed between the various chains. Many companies abandoned the use of Bakelite in the early 1940s as the need for World War II-related products held its place. By the end of the World War, new technologies evolved in the world of plastics which made Bakelite obsolete. But still, Bakelite is constant to be used for wire insulation, brake pads and other related automotive components as well as industrial electrical-related applications.
  4. The main thing about Bakelite and indeed all phenolic resins is that they are Thermosetting polymers as opposed to thermoplastics.
  5. Most plastics that we see around us these days are thermoplastics. Which means they melt when heated. And then can be remelted again, and again, multiple times.
  6. However, thermosets will only go soft, melt the one time, then they are set. The polymers are crosslinked. If reheated the material will eventually char and burn, but it will not remelt.
  7. Phenolic is still used today. But are not as common as in the past when they were used for electrical sockets and plugs, old fashioned telephones, and ashtrays, etc.

Harmful effects of plastic and it’s used in the future :

  1. Whenever we toss something like paper, food peels, leaves, etc. there are small diminutive creatures in nature – the bacteria – who consume these things or turn them into beneficial products that nature loves. These things are called ‘Biodegradable’.
  2. ‘Non-Biodegradable ‘things, on the other hand, like glass, steel, and Plastic – can not be turned into useful, nature-friendly products. The bacteria can’t eat them up or break them up.
  3. Plastic is a material made to remain forever, yet 33 percent of all plastic – water bottles, bags, and straws – are used just once and thrown away. Plastic cannot biodegrade; it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
  4. Toxic chemicals leach out of plastic and are found in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, congenital disabilities, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption, and other ailments.
  5. There are thousands of landfills in the United States. Buried beneath each one of them, toxic chemicals from plastics drain out and seep into groundwater, flowing downstream into lakes and rivers.
  6. Chemicals in Plastic that provide them with their rigidity or flexibility (flame retardants, bisphenols, phthalates, and other harmful chemicals) are oily poisons that oppose water and stick to petroleum-based objects like plastic debris. So, the toxic chemicals that drain out of plastics can accumulate on other plastics. This is a serious concern with increasing amounts of plastic waste accumulating in the world’s oceans.
  7. Wildlife becomes entangled in Plastic, they eat it or mistake it for food and feed it to their young, and it is found littered in even too remote areas of the Earth. In our oceans alone, plastic debris outweighs zooplankton by a ratio of 36-to-1.
  8. Even plankton, the tiniest creatures in our oceans, are eating microplastics and absorbing their hazardous chemicals. The small, broken down pieces of plastic are displacing the algae needed to sustain larger sea life who feed on them.
  9. Plastics are non-biodegradable.
  10. Most of them are made from petrochemicals.
  11. During the process of making plastic products, toxic chemicals get addedIf not disposed of properly, which is generally the case, they remain in the environment. Block drains and water bodies, form large islands in the seas and oceans. Birds and fish eat plastics that way, and it comes back into our find chain.
  12. Piles of plastics are not only an eyesore but harmful chemicals leach into the ground and pollute the soil and water.
  13. Heating food in plastics is unsafe for health unless it is food grade.
  14. Animals like cows eat plastics that are strewn all over the streets a d die prematurely.
  15. Burning plastics can release toxic gases.
  16. For all these inferences it is best to use as few plastics as possible, especially single-use or disposables and recycle, reuse as much as we can, and improve our health and environment.

That is why Governments try to impose controls, and companies and citizens should abide by them.

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