What is made of plastic
Plastics are special materials that do not exist in nature. Man made them artificially. We usually simply call plastic “plastic”. There are so many different types of them and we see them a lot in everyday life.
Many clothes and shoes are made of plastic. Duvets and carpets are also often made of synthetic fibers, or synthetic fibers for short. Mattresses, upholstery and sponges are made of foamed plastics. Many packaging for food are made of plastic, for example milk bottles, yoghurt pots, cheese foils, bags for biscuits, bags for fruits and many others.
Sewer pipes or the sheaths of power cables are made of plastic, as is almost everything in the interior of a car. Many children's toys such as Lego or Playmobil and others are made of plastic.
How do you make plastics?
Plastics have to be made in a factory. The first plastics emerged in the 19th century, mostly from parts of plants. In the 20th century, plastics began to be made from petroleum. Almost all plastics are made this way today.
To make a plastic you have to change the tiniest parts, namely the atoms and molecules. Usually they are linked to form long chains or nets. It's a complicated chemical process. Depending on the shape of the new molecules, the plastic has different properties. Plastics can be hard and tough or elastic like rubber. There are transparent plastics or colored ones, some deform when heated.
Plastics pollute the environment for several reasons: All of them use a lot of crude oil in their production, which is then mostly lost. When burned, it heats up the climate. The second reason: the manufacture of plastics produces many toxic substances. They are very dangerous if they get into the environment. In addition, plastics hardly decompose at all in nature. The garbage is then an environmental problem for a long time.
What is microplastic?
Microplastics are small plastic particles that measure no more than half a centimeter. Such a particle will easily fit on a little fingernail. But they can also be so small that they can only be seen under a powerful microscope.
Microplastics can arise in two ways: In one way, the tiny parts are produced in this way. They are used in cosmetic products, for example. Other parts are needed in baby diapers because they are very absorbent. There are many other uses for microplastic particles.
The other type of microplastic can arise from any plastic part, for example from a shopping bag. If it's lying around somewhere, especially in the sun, the plastic becomes brittle and crumbles into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastics are also produced from beverage bottles, lost fishing nets and many other things.
Microplastics are everywhere today: in soils, rivers, lakes and seas. In the Arctic, too, there are microplastics that the ocean currents have carried there.
So microplastics pollute our entire planet. It accumulates in plants and animals. We only know today that mussels get infected from it, fish change their behavior. Humans also ingest microplastics when they eat contaminated animals. What happens then has not yet been explored. Also, no one yet knows how to get rid of these particles. They live in nature for a very, very long time.
Are all man-made substances plastics?
We don't call every artificially produced material plastic. Bronze, for example, is a mixture of two metals, namely copper and tin. Mixtures of metals are called "alloys".
Concrete is also a mixture that people made. It consists of sand or gravel, cement and water. Cement and water also make a chemical reaction with one another. However, the molecules that are important for the plastic are not produced. Therefore, concrete is not considered a plastic either.
Rubber should not be confused with plastic. It is made from "rubber", which is the resin of a tree. So rubber is a natural product. There are still erasers made of real rubber today, but also those made of plastic. Wellies were always made of rubber in the past, but now some of them are also made of plastic. Most of the rubber is needed in car tires today. It's rubber with different ingredients.
Toothbrushes are almost exclusively made of plastic.
Today we buy a lot of food in plastic packaging.
Most cleaning agents today are packaged in plastic.
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