PLASTIC ERA – HOW IS PLASTIC MADE? 10 EASY SIMPLIFIED STEPS

Plastic is the word that everybody is familiar with. We have talked a lot in the past for being eco-friendly, plastic-free, leading a sustainable lifestyle, and also going zero waste in terms of wasting and packaging of the products.

RELATED: WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?

Going plastic-free is one of the best things that can be adapted while you lead your life consciously and in a planet-friendly way. But do you know how plastic is made? What is its origin and how we can single handedly avoid the use of plastic in our everyday lifestyle?

Let me explain to you in simple terms what ACTUALLY is plastic and how it is made because mostly if you read the article on plastic you will fall asleep as we used to during our science exams. So let’s get into the reading.

WHAT IS PLASTIC ACTUALLY

What comes in your mind when I say what is plastic? The majority of you would say that something that is easy to find or is conveniently sold, it’s cheap and is very readily available. That’s it. But that is not what is plastic.

READ MORE: MAKE A PLASTIC FREE KITCHEN

Plastic is a POLYMER (material of long repeated chains of molecules) that can be molded into desired shapes and sizes. It gives you an easy approach to cast, press, or stretches into different shapes and forms. It is a malleable chemical and that is why it is so versatile and flexible that it is used everywhere including industries, construction, architecture, packaging, electrical sector, digital industry, consumer goods, and building materials.

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There is very less sector or I must say no sector of the industry that is not using the plastic in one form or the other. Basically plastic comprises of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic compounds that can be molded and shaped in desired needs and wants. And that is why it is so popular.

HOW IS PLASTIC MADE?

We all talk a lot about plastic-free life and how one should lead a sustainable green lifestyle. But do you know the basics? Do we know how plastic is actually made and what are its environmental impacts?

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Today we are going to talk only about plastic as common plastics. Plastic has many categories with respect to its chemical properties, physical properties, usage, and structure or temperature reaction. We will get into that later in the blog but for now, to understand, on a rough note plastic is basically categorized into 3 types.

Synthetic – the chemical that comes from a reaction of simpler materials.

Semi-synthetic –  chemical which is mixed with natural materials.

Bioplastic –  material that comes from oils, fats, carbohydrates, bacteria, or any biological substance. It’s biodegradable or not is another topic but this is what it is.

So to explain the manufacturing and production of plastic, we will focus on type number 1 which is synthetic plastic. Let’s begin to talk in simple steps so that it is very simple and easy for you to understand actually how plastic is made.

Plastic is a POLYMER made from fossil fuels.

“I hope you know what are fossil fuels. The dead things that have naturally decomposed in hundreds and hundreds of years form fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources that will deplete one day very soon. That is why there is a strong focus to use renewable energy sources like solar, water, wind, etc. to cut down on non-renewable fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil.”

PLASTIC

Mostly majority of plastic is made from crude oil and gas. That is why it is also called PETROCHEMICAL i.e a chemical formed from the petroleum oil. Lets see how is it made!

Step no. 1

The basic crude oil is extracted from the earth with the method of drilling from the Oil Rigs. A drilling rig is a large structure with facilities for well drilling to explore, extract, store, and process petroleum and natural gas that lies in rock formations beneath the seabed.

Step no. 2

These crude oil / or the fossil fuels are then transported to an oil refinery or a petroleum refinery.

Step no. 3

Once this crude oil reaches the refinery, it needs to be separated into different compounds based on their boiling points and weights. If you recall your school textbooks, this method is called FRACTIONAL DISTILLATION. It is a method of heating the oil so that it evaporates, condenses, and gets separated into different fractions to form a variety of chemical compounds.

Step no. 4

So now to make you understand better, the crude oil is processed under fractional distillation to form different fractions in its own compartment. For better clarity here is a pictorial representation of fractional distillation and you can clearly see that gets divided into 8 different components.

fractional distillation

Step no. 5

When you see the above picture, we are interested to focus on NAPHTHA which is used to make different chemicals and this is where our focus is. Naphtha is a chemical compound that is used to make plastic. But how..lets read further.

** Kindly note that Naphta is the chemical compound that is also used in many cleaning liquids and thinning sprays, paints, cleaning sprays, etc. So next time you go and line up outside a superstore to buy cleaning liquid think twice.

RELATED : HOW TO DIY CLEANING HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS

Step no. 6

Since we have naphtha with us now, its time to further break it down with another set of a chemical process called cracking. This cracking process produces hydrocarbons of different structures and formations to form another type of chemicals called Propylene, ethylene, and butylene.

To give you a heads up we are almost there as the 7 types of COMMON PLASTIC known today !

Step no. 7

But the process is not complete yet. Once we get the plastic bases of Propylene, ethylene and butylene, it is further mixed with chemicals to react and process and condense to form different types of common plastics (mentioned above) known today.

Step no. 8

But the plastic is not ready yet.  The plastic is like powdered sugar or a polymer powder that looks like detergent. This is now heated, melted, and is taken down in the pipes where it is cooled and shaped to delivar

Step no. 9

At this stage, the plastic is made in small pellets or nurdles which will be sold and shipped to different industries and factories to be remelted and reshaped to get the perfect shapes for their products.

Step no. 10

PLASTIC PRODUCTS ARE READY – In order to make many everyday common plastic items like milk jugs, beverage bottles, pipes, polythene bags etc.

Just a thought – My opinion. Do you see how long is the supply and production chain of just making raw material for plastic? And we have not even talked about the process and chemical reactions it goes through in industries ahead to get into that perfect shape. It really goes to my heart that how difficult is to just carry few things at personal level to reduce this chemical and energy driven process.

Summery – Plastic is formed by a chemical compound called “Naphtha” which is a chemical and a byproduct generated by the fractional distillation of the crude oil.

The chain looks like this somehow –

FOSSIL FUEL –  FRACTIONAL DISTILLATION – NAPHTHA – PROPYLENE ETHYLENE BUTYLENE – RAW POLYMER POWDER –  PELLETS OR NURDLE – SHIPPED –  PROCESSED TO FORM PLASTIC PRODUCTS.

CATEGORIES OF PLASTIC – BASIS

BY CHEMICAL STRUCTURE –  dividing by polymer’s chemical chains.

BY CHEMICAL PROCESS – dividing by the process of synthesis, condensation, evaporation.

BY PHYSICAL PROPERTIES – dividing by hardness, density, strength, density hardness and heat resistance.

BY CHEMICAL PROPERTIES – dividing by reaction to various chemical products.

BY QUALITY –  dividing by the product design and its manufacturing.

BY USAGE  – diving by common usage and industrial uses.

TYPES OF PLASTIC

Common Plastic – Plastic that is used as a commodity or a consumer product, which you and I use in everyday lifestyle is common plastic.

Specialized plastic – plastic that is used in specialized industries and chemically made fit to set into different types of usage in modern industry practices.

READ MORE : WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF PLASTIC  ?

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS

Few things that plastic do to the environment and for the biodiversity health are :

High chemical driven plastic causes long term damage to human health. It is slowly absorbed by the human body and is found in hormones which lead to serious human health issues

Plastic waste and microplastic are often mistaken as food and eaten by marine animals which leads to poison them. Killing marine animals in the sea disrupts our ecological cycle alarming the whole sustainability factor

floating plastic release microplastic in our sea and other water bodies which in other way reached our water system and then directly ti out bodies.

Plastic buried deep in landfills can leave harmful chemicals in the air and groundwater level polluting the two most important spheres for biodiversity existence.

It highly consumes fossil fuels which is a non-renewable source of energy. It is said that 4 percent of world oil production is used to make plastic and a similar amount of fossil fuel is then used to make plastc from the basic raw materials.

READ MORE ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF PLASTIC : https://www.ehn.org/plastic-environmental-impact-2501923191.html

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO AVOID IT?

Plastic has both sides of the coin. It is highly beneficial in industry sectors where a perfect match to the versatility of plastic in unmatched but the other side is the amount of bad its doing to the environment and human and organism health is too much to get adjusted with.

Plastic can be single handedly avoided at personal level if you cant control the industrial production.

On this note lets close the chapter of how a basic plastic bottle or a jug is made which you throw in the dustbin without thinking that how much of a process and energy-driven that single bottle of plastic is, without thinking that how huge is the impact of the same and how we can very much control it at individual levels.

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