Plastic – the laymans guide

There are many plastics on the market and equally many websites giving detailed specifications on chemical resistance, density, fire rating and melting point; however, what does all this confusing information mean.

This article will give you a guide to various plastics and there uses.

Polyester (PES) – Fibers, textiles.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – Carbonated drinks bottles, peanut butter jars, plastic film, microwavable packaging.

Polyethylene (PE) – Wide range of inexpensive uses including supermarket bags, plastic bottles.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) – Detergent bottles and milk jugs.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – Plumbing pipes and guttering, shower curtains, window frames, flooring.

Polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) (Saran) – Food packaging.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) – Outdoor furniture, siding, floor tiles, shower curtains, clamshell packaging.

Polypropylene (PP) – Bottle caps, drinking straws, yogurt containers, appliances, car fenders (bumpers), plastic pressure pipe systems.

Polystyrene (PS) – Packaging foam/"peanuts", food containers, plastic tableware, disposable cups, plates, cutlery, CD and cassette boxes.

High impact polystyrene (HIPS) -: Refrigerator liners, food packaging, vending cups.

Polyamides (PA) (Nylons) – Fibers, toothbrush bristles, fishing line, under-the-hood car engine moldings.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) – Electronic equipment cases (e.g., computer monitors, printers, keyboards), drainage pipe.

Polycarbonate (PC) – Compact discs, eyeglasses, riot shields, security windows, traffic lights, lenses.

Polycarbonate/Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (PC/ABS) – A blend of PC and ABS that creates a stronger plastic. Used in car interior and exterior parts, and mobile phone bodies.

Polyurethanes (PU) – Cushioning foams, thermal insulation foams, surface coatings, printing rollers (Currently 6th or 7th most commonly used plastic material, for instance the most commonly used plastic found in cars).

Melamine formaldehyde (MF) – One of the aminoplasts, and used as a multi-colorable alternative to phenolics, for instance in moldings (e.g., break-resistance alternatives to ceramic cups, plates and bowls for children) and the decorated top surface layer of the paper laminates (e.g., Formica).

Plastarch material – Biodegradable and heat resistant, thermoplastic composed of modified corn starch.

Phenolics (PF) or (phenol formaldehydes) – High modulus, relatively heat resistant, and excellent fire resistant polymer. Used for insulating parts in electrical fixtures, paper laminated products (e.g., Formica), thermally insulation foams. It is a thermosetting plastic, with the familiar trade name Bakelite, that can be molded by heat and pressure when mixed with a filler-like wood flour or can be cast in its unfilled liquid form or cast as foam (e.g., Oasis). Problems include the probability of moldings naturally being dark colors (red, green, brown), and as thermoset it is difficult to recycle.

Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) – Strong, chemical- and heat-resistant thermoplastic, biocompatibility allows for use in medical implant applications, aerospace moldings. One of the most expensive commercial polymers.

Polyetherimide (PEI) (Ultem) – A high temperature, chemically stable polymer that does not crystallize.

Polylactic acid (PLA) – A biodegradable, thermoplastic found converted into a variety of aliphatic polyesters derived from lactic acid which in turn can be made by fermentation of various agricultural products such as corn starch, once made from dairy products.

Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) – Contact lenses, glazing (best known in this form by its various trade names around the world; e.g., Perspex, Oroglas, Plexiglas), aglets, fluorescent light diffusers, rear light covers for vehicles. It forms the basis of artistic and commercial acrylic paints when suspended in water with the use of other agents.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) – Heat-resistant, low-friction coatings, used in things like non-stick surfaces for frying pans, plumber’s tape and water slides. It is more commonly known as Teflon.

Urea-formaldehyde (UF) – One of the aminoplasts and used as a multi-colorable alternative to phenolics. Used as a wood adhesive (for plywood, chipboard, hardboard) and electrical switch housings.