Anthony L. Andrady , Mike A. Neal
Plastics Europe, Brussels 1160, Belgium.
This article explains the history, from 1600 BC to 2008, of materials that are today termed ‘plastics’. It includes production volumes and current consumption patterns of five main commodity plastics: polypropylene, polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene and polyethylene terephthalate. The use of additives to modify the properties of these plastics and any associated safety, in use, issues for the resulting polymeric materials are described. A comparison is made with the thermal and barrier properties of other materials to demonstrate the versatility of plastics. Societal benefits for health, safety, energy saving and material conservation are described, and the particular advantages of plastics in society are outlined. Concerns relating to littering and trends in recycling of plastics are also described. Finally, we give predictions for some of the potential applications of plastic over the next 20 years.