10 Essential Characteristics of Plastic, Understanding the Versatile Material


Discover the key properties of plastic in our informative post. Explore its durability, flexibility, recyclability, and more, unlocking its wide-ranging applications.

The plastic is a material that is composed of proteins, resins or other substances. It is easy to mold when exposed to high temperatures and can remain unchanged after said exposure. For this reason it is said that the plastic has properties of flexibility and elasticity since it allows its adaptation to certain forms.

The plastic, once it reaches its final shape, turns out to be quite resistant and difficult to degrade. Its utilities are varied, it is used for the construction of bottles, tables, vases, among others.

The resistance to deterioration, impermeability and low cost make this material one of the most used both in industry and in daily consumption. However, this material is not easy to recycle, being able to contaminate the environment for thousands of years.

10 Characteristics Of Plastic - What is plastic?


Characteristics Of Plastic

1. Discovery

Plastic is a synthetic material made from polymers, which are long chains of molecules. It was first discovered in the 19th century, but its widespread use began in the early 20th century. Plastic is known for its versatility, durability, and low cost, which has led to its extensive use in various industries and everyday products.

The discovery of plastic is attributed to Alexander Parkes, who in 1855 demonstrated a material called Parkesine at the Great International Exhibition in London. Parkesine was the first man-made plastic, derived from cellulose. However, it was not widely successful due to its high cost.

The breakthrough in the development of modern plastics came in 1907 when Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian-born American chemist, invented Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic made from phenol and formaldehyde. Bakelite was revolutionary because it could be molded into various shapes, was resistant to heat and electricity, and did not conduct heat or electricity.

Following the invention of Bakelite, the plastic industry experienced significant growth. Over time, scientists and engineers developed new types of plastics with different properties and characteristics. Plastics can be categorized into various types, including polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene, and many others.

Plastic revolutionized numerous industries, such as packaging, construction, transportation, electronics, and healthcare. It has become an integral part of our daily lives, with applications ranging from disposable utensils and household items to medical devices and automotive components.

However, the widespread use of plastic has also resulted in environmental concerns. Plastics are typically non-biodegradable and can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Improper disposal and poor waste management have led to plastic pollution, particularly in oceans and waterways, causing harm to marine life and ecosystems.

Efforts are being made to address these environmental issues associated with plastic. Recycling, reducing plastic waste, and developing biodegradable alternatives are some of the strategies being pursued to mitigate the impact of plastic on the environment.


In conclusion, plastic is a versatile synthetic material that has had a profound impact on society since its discovery. While it has brought significant benefits to various industries, its long-lasting nature and improper disposal have also raised environmental concerns, leading to a need for more sustainable practices.

2. Classification

As for the classification of plastics, we can distinguish:

Natural plastics They are polymers derived from products of natural origin. For example; cellulose, rubber and casein. At the same time, a sub-classification can be distinguished.
Cellulose derived from cellulose: They make up celluloid, cellophane and cellón.
Plastics derived from rubber: For example rubber and ebonite.
Synthetic plastics They are made by petroleum products. For example, polyethylene bags.

3. Types of plastic

There are many different types of plastic, each with its own unique properties and characteristics. Here are some of the commonly used types of plastic:

  1. Polyethylene (PE): This is the most common type of plastic and is used in a wide range of applications. It has a low density and is flexible, making it suitable for products such as plastic bags, bottles, and food containers.
  2. Polypropylene (PP): PP is a versatile plastic known for its high heat resistance and durability. It is used in packaging, automotive parts, textiles, and medical devices.
  3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): PVC is a rigid plastic that can be made flexible through the addition of plasticizers. It is used in construction materials, pipes, electrical cables, and vinyl records.
  4. Polystyrene (PS): PS is a lightweight and rigid plastic often used for packaging materials and disposable foam products like food containers and coffee cups. It can also be found in insulation and packaging peanuts.
  5. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): PET is a strong and transparent plastic commonly used for making beverage bottles, food packaging, and synthetic fibers.
  6. Polyurethane (PU): PU is a versatile plastic with excellent durability and resilience. It is used in foams, coatings, adhesives, and upholstery materials.
  7. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): ABS is a tough and impact-resistant plastic used in various applications, including consumer electronics, automotive parts, and toys.
  8. Polycarbonate (PC): PC is a strong and transparent plastic known for its impact resistance. It is used in products like safety glasses, CDs, and electronic components.
  9. Nylon: Nylon is a strong and durable plastic used in applications such as textiles, ropes, carpets, and mechanical parts.
  10. Polyvinylidene Chloride (PVDC): PVDC is a barrier plastic that provides excellent resistance to moisture and gases. It is commonly used in food packaging and protective coatings.

These are just a few examples of the many types of plastic available, each with its own specific characteristics and applications. It’s important to note that not all plastics are recyclable, and proper disposal and recycling practices are crucial to minimizing the environmental impact of plastic waste.

10 Characteristics Of Plastic - What is plastic?

4. Production cost

One of the characteristics by which this material began to be used is its low cost of production since it can take the form that is desired as long as it is exposed to the necessary high temperatures and the appropriate mold is available.

5. Colorless and solid or semi-solid

This material is widely used in the industry, both edible and industrial, due to the lack of color and great solidity, and can range from edible, drinkable foods to industrial products.

6. Electrical and thermal insulators

In general, plastics are excellent electrical insulators. In other words, they do not conduct electricity. However, in the event of fire, plastic is highly conductive, so precautions must be taken with this material in these cases. However, on certain occasions, it is used as a thermal insulator although it can not withstand very high temperatures.

7. Resistance

Within the use of plastics one of the most outstanding is its ability to contain and resist without altering substances. For these reasons it is used to contain acids or chemical processes.

8. Temperature

A plastic receives the name of thermoplastic when it changes in front of the exhibition or variation of temperature. That is to say, in front of an average temperature (standard) the plastic has a type of solidity and resistance, being able to be a little flexible or deformable (this will depend on the materials that compose it).


However, in general terms, this type of thermoplastic, when exposed to high temperatures, becomes liquid and, faced with very low temperatures, it will become rigid and vitreous.

10 Characteristics Of Plastic - What is plastic?

9. Degree of toxicity and recycling

The degree of toxicity and recyclability of plastics can vary depending on the type of plastic. Here’s a general overview:


  • Some plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), can contain additives like phthalates or lead, which can be toxic and have potential health risks. However, regulations and industry practices have reduced the use of harmful additives in many plastic products.
  • Other plastics, like polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), are considered relatively non-toxic and are widely used in food packaging and medical applications.


  • Not all plastics are easily recyclable, and the recycling process can vary for different types of plastic.
  • Highly recyclable plastics include polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used in beverage bottles and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) used in milk jugs and detergent bottles.
  • Polypropylene (PP) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) are also commonly recycled.
  • On the other hand, plastics like polystyrene (PS), commonly used in foam packaging, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are more challenging to recycle due to their chemical composition and limited market demand for recycled materials.
  • Plastics labeled with recycling codes (usually found as a number inside the chasing arrows symbol) help identify the type of plastic and its recyclability, but recycling capabilities can vary by region and recycling facility.

It’s important to note that even recyclable plastics often face challenges in the recycling process, such as contamination, lack of recycling infrastructure, and limited markets for recycled materials. Therefore, reducing plastic consumption, reusing plastic products, and proper waste management practices, including recycling, are crucial in minimizing the environmental impact of plastics.

Additionally, advancements are being made in the development of more environmentally friendly plastics, such as biodegradable and compostable plastics made from renewable resources. However, it’s important to ensure proper disposal and composting conditions for these materials to effectively break down and avoid contamination issues.

10. Contamination

In relation to the above, a plastic that is at high temperatures and transformed into a liquid state, releases several highly toxic substances for both humans and the environment.

On the other hand, the deterioration of this plastic (although very stable in the short time) is polluting after hundreds of years so it is quite difficult to recycle.

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