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Plastic Products

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Plastics are used in almost every aspect of everyday life. Look around and no doubt you will see something made from, or containing, plastic.

 manufacturing different plastics
 durable vs. single-use plastics

ALSO SEE:
plastics and food
plastics recyclability
helpful links about plastics manufacturing
helpful links about toxic chemicals in plastics


Manufacturing Different Plastics

Why are there so many different types of plastic products?

Every plastic product is manufactured from a combination of one or more plastic resins, with additional chemicals and materials, using one or more manufacturing processes (see plastics science), which give the product distinct characteristics and behaviors.

Plastics products are so diverse in form and composition that the recyclability of plastics as a group is complicated. Many plastic products have no (or very weak) markets for recycling.

The strongest markets are for rigid containers, particularly bottles and jugs. This is why, until 2013, NYC only accepted bottles and jugs for recycling. NYC now accepts all rigid plastics in the recycling stream.

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Durable vs. Single-Use Plastics

Many plastic products are manufactured with the purpose of being used once and then discarded, while others are manufactured with more durability to withstand long-term use.

Single-use plastics (such as sandwich bags and water bottles) can typically withstand limited reuse, though the plastic will crack, break, or otherwise deteriorate with repeated use. Durable plastics (such as automobile bumpers, office chairs, and computer monitor casings) are designed to keep their shape and function over long periods of use (3 years or more).

Depending on its intended use, each plastic product is designed to have a certain level of resistance to physical stress, light, heat, moisture, and chemicals, among others. Exposure to these factors beyond the product's capabilities can create physical and/or chemical changes in the plastic, such as decreased flexibility, cracking, discoloration, and odor.

When additives used in plastic products migrate from the material, physical changes can occur, such as a decrease in flexibility. Both durable and single-use plastic products can deteriorate physically and chemically, though single-use products are more likely to deteriorate faster. Compare how easy it is to tear a hole in a zip lock sandwich bag versus a polypropylene tote bag.

Ongoing research continues to refine what are considered to be safe and acceptable uses for plastic products. Certain uses of plastic, such as for food storage and medical devices, are regulated for health and safety. Check labeling and instructions for approved and intended uses of plastic products.

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