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Plastic is any synthetic or semisynthetic organic polymer. In other words, while other elements may be present, plastics always include carbon and hydrogen. While plastics may be made from just about any organic polymer, most industrial plastic is made from petrochemicals. Thermoplastics and thermosetting polymers are the two types of plastic. The name “plastic” refers to the property of plasticity, which is the ability to deform without breaking.
The polymer used to make a plastic is almost always mixed with additives, including colorants, plasticizers, stabilizers, fillers, and reinforcements. These additives affect the chemical composition, chemical properties, and mechanical properties of a plastic and also affect its cost.
Thermosetting polymers, also known as thermosets, solidify into a permanent shape. They are amorphous and considered to have infinite molecular weight. Thermoplastics, on the other hand, can be heated and remolded over and over again. Some thermoplastics are amorphous, while some have a partially crystalline structure. Thermoplastics typically have a molecular weight between 20,000 to 500,000 amu.
Plastics are often referred to by the acronyms for their chemical formulae:
Polyethylene terephthalate—PET or PETE
The properties of plastics depend on the chemical composition of the subunits, the arrangement of these subunits, and the processing method.
All plastics are polymers, but not all polymers are plastic. Plastic polymers consist of chains of linked subunits, called monomers. If identical monomers are joined, it forms a homopolymer. Difference monomers link to form copolymers. Homopolymers and copolymers may be either straight chains or branched chains.
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