Plastics Essay

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Introduction According to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, plastics are defined as “a group of materials, either synthetic or naturally occurring, that may be shaped when soft and then hardened to retain the given shape.” (1) Plastics are also considered to be polymers, a substance made of many repeating units. While there are many natural polymers, synthetic polymers have exceptionally useful properties that can be engineered for specific tasks. The first synthetic plastic was invented in 1869, a modified cellulose that was used as a substitution for Ivory (2). The ability to synthesize new plastics helped to increase public access to previously scarce natural resources. The first entirely synthetic plastic was ‘Bakelite’, first made in 1907, a moldable material that is durable and resistant to harsh conditions. The invention of Bakelite led to a large amount of research for developing new synthetic plastics. For the next five decades, new plastics opened a door to an optimistic future, with abundant resources that could be used for nearly every application. However, in the 1960’s plastics increasingly became viewed as a danger to the environment, and a symbol of cheap and flimsy materials (2). Plastic products do not break down naturally, and their lasting post-disposal impact was seen across much of the United States, showing up in the ocean, rivers, and beaches as well as filling up landfills. This led the plastic industry to find a way to improve the public image of plastics. This report overviews the historical development of plastic recycling, along with technical and economic concerns of plastic recycling. History of plastic recycling The first recycling of plastics on an industrial scale began in 1972 in Consh... ... middle of paper ... ...anies that use recycled plastics to make consumer end products buy reprocessed plastic from companies that specialize in plastic recycling. Most plastic recycling companies focus on a few specific types of plastic to recycle, targeting specific production facilities and consumer groups to collect that plastic locally. For example, B & B Plastics INC, located in California, is on of the United States’ largest plastic recycling companies, recycling 136,000 tons per year. B & B only recycles HDPE, LDPE, HIP, and GPPS plastics. The next largest company in the U.S. is B. Schoenberg & Co. Inc, located in New York, which process 115,000 tons of recycled material per year. Their primary focus is on flexible PVC, ABS, HMW-HDPE, and Ethylene(7). A full list of the largest plastic recycling companies in the U.S. and Canada is provided in Figure 1, attached in the appendices.

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