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Diving Deep Into Plastic Resin: Insights Of Its Composition And Applications

Plastic resin - a fundamental component in the production of various plastic products

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Plastic, a highly versatile and indispensable material, has become integral to modern life, facilitating numerous innovations and conveniences, ranging from food packaging to space rockets. Because of this ubiquity, we often forget that plastics come in a wide variety. Knowing which plastic is appropriate for your specific demands is crucial.

The main component of all plastic items is plastic resin. But what exactly is it, and how is it manufactured? These questions will be addressed in this blog.

What Is Plastic Resin?

Plastic resins are the main base of all plastics, but these resins are modified via various procedures to meet diverse demands. But where exactly does it originate?

Plastic resin derived from oil. It is known as primary plastic resin. When utilized, fundamental ones are often natural white. Initially, primary plastic resins typically possess a natural white color.

Plastic resin is a major player in the raw-materials world
Plastic resin is a major player in the raw-materials world

However, manufacturers often incorporate color granules to achieve a spectrum of hues, ranging from blue and red to purple and yellow. 

Plastic is made from the byproducts of oil refinement. When crude oil is extracted from the earth, it is a mixture of many different chemicals. To get to the various substances we use every day, the crude oil must be distilled. This is done by heating the oil, allowing different chemicals to separate and be collected.

Some of these liquids can be used to create plastic once they are altered through a process called cracking. Basically speaking, plastics are the result of molecules called hydrocarbons being encouraged to create chains, called polymers.

To create the specific kind of product required, the right kind of this plastic is chosen. When packed, certain plastics are loaded with hot items, such as those found in some food processing facilities. Others would need to have distinct qualities since they are utilized for chemical goods.

Many people are unaware that plastic resin can be recycled, despite the fact that it may be used to manufacture a variety of everyday items. Only over half of items made from plastic resin are utilized to create additional products. The remainder is disposed  in the trash, which is bad for the environment.

How Is Plastic Resin Made?

What is plastic resin made of? The manufacturing process is performed by heating hydrocarbon which is known as the “cracking process.”

This process breaks down larger molecules into ethylene, propylene, and other types of hydrocarbons. The temperature during cracking determines the amount of ethylene produced.

Once the cracking process is finished, the chemicals are synthesized into polymeric chains. Plastic resins are formed by combining multiple polymers to impart the desired properties for various applications. After being manufactured, they are utilized to create a wide range of items.

The detailed process of making plastic resins can be described below:

Step 1: Petroleum extracting

Drilling is used to extract petroleum. After this period, it  is then sent to an oil refinery for processing.

Step 2: Creating petrochemicals

Petrochemicals like ethane and propane are created by refining the crude oil extracted from the ground.

Step 3: Cracking

Ethylene and propylene hydrocarbons are generated from ethane and propane through a heating method known as cracking or catalytic cracking. This process involves breaking down larger molecules into smaller hydrocarbons such as ethylene, propylene, and others.

Step 4: Adding a catalyst

A catalyst is introduced to a reactor after the material has been cracked to produce a polymer, which is a powder. This substance, which the refineries refer to as “fluff”. This powder is continuously mixed with various additives, depending on the specific type of plastic required.

Step 5: Melting

At this step,  an extruder is used to melt and generate the polymer.

Step 6: Shaping

Finally, once cooled after extrusion, the material is chopped and shaped into the plastic pellets that you are able to see in almost every plastic plant. The petroleum-derived pellets are utilized in extrusion, injection, and blow molding, as well as other plastic production processes.

Types Of Plastic Resins

Plastic resin can be categorized into seven types. These categories are identified according to their numerical plastic-resin recycling codes and were initially established in 1988. According to Miller Recycling Corporation, those are:

Each type of plastic resin possesses distinct physical characteristics. Then they are used for different purposes, different customers. However, a common feature among them is that recycled plastic resin often remains undamaged when heated, allowing it to be reclaimed and injection molded into new forms.

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Common Uses Of Plastic Resin

Plastic resin is a versatile material. It is used in a wide range of industries and applications due to its adaptability, durability, and cost-effectiveness. Some common uses of this include:

Packaging

Plastic resin is extensively used in packaging materials such as plastic bags, bottles, containers, wraps, and films due to its ability to protect and preserve products while being lightweight and flexible.

Construction

In the construction industry, it is used in various forms, including PVC pipes, vinyl siding, insulation materials, flooring, roofing, and window frames due to its resistance to moisture, corrosion, and impact.

Electronics

It can be seen as a part of  electronic devices for casings, connectors, insulators, and packaging due to its electrical insulation properties, durability, and ability to be molded into intricate shapes.

Medical

 In the medical industry, it can be used in medical devices, equipment, and packaging due to its sterilizability, biocompatibility, and versatility. Examples include syringes, IV bags, catheters, and implants.

Agriculture

Plastic resin is used in agriculture for irrigation pipes, greenhouse films, mulch films, and packaging materials to improve crop yield, conserve water, and protect crops from pests and weather elements.

Sports and recreation

Plastic resin is used in sports and recreational equipment such as helmets, protective gear, fishing rods, kayaks, and playground equipment due to its lightweight and durable as well.

Environmental Impact 

Since the myriad production of plastic began, nearly six billion tons of it, accounting for approximately 91%, has persisted in our atmosphere, soil, and oceans. Plastic production and use is embedded in the global economy, posing a threat to our natural environment.

Pollution

Plastic resin contributes significantly to pollution across all stages of its lifecycle. During production, emissions from refining and polymerization processes release greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Plastic products, when discarded, degrade into microplastics, contaminating soil, waterways, and marine ecosystems.

Marine life

Marine animals often mistake plastic debris for food, leading to ingestion and entanglement. This not only harms individual organisms but also disrupts entire ecosystems, affecting biodiversity and fisheries.

Landfill overflow

Plastic resin constitutes a significant portion of municipal solid waste, overwhelming landfills globally. Its slow decomposition rate exacerbates landfill capacity issues and releases harmful chemicals into the soil and groundwater.

Addressing The Plastic Resin Crisis

Scientists warn that the proliferation of plastics in the environment is creating a variety of health and ecological problems. Some companies are starting to recognize the need to act. Here are several methods that could be proposed to tackle this issue.

Dealing with plastic resin crisis
Reducing, reusing and recycling plastic is key in countering the devastation

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Implementing the three Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – is crucial in mitigating the environmental impact of plastic resin. Reducing single-use plastics, promoting reusable alternatives, and investing in efficient recycling infrastructure can significantly reduce plastic waste.

Innovation in material science

Researchers are exploring alternative materials and sustainable polymers derived from renewable resources such as plant-based bioplastics. These innovations offer promising solutions to the plastic resin crisis without compromising functionality or affordability.

Policy interventions

Governments worldwide are enacting policies and regulations to curb plastic pollution. Bans on single-use plastics, extended producer responsibility schemes, and incentives for eco-friendly packaging are some initiatives aimed at reducing plastic resin consumption and promoting sustainable practices.

Raising public awareness

Raising public awareness about the environmental consequences of plastic resin and educating consumers about sustainable consumption habits are essential in fostering a culture of environmental responsibility.

Conclusion

Plastic resin, while being an integral part of our modern economy, still poses a significant threat to the environment and human health. Addressing the plastic resin crisis requires a concerted effort from policymakers, industries, and consumers alike.

By taking sustainable alternatives, promoting responsible consumption, and advocating for systemic change, we can mitigate the environmental impact of plastic resin and move towards a more sustainable future. It’s time to rethink our reliance on plastic and pave the way for a cleaner, healthier planet.

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