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  • Writer's pictureSarah Whiteford

How are Plastics made?

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

In our continuing series of kid-friendly resources, we have compiled the below information, we hope it helps keeps the kids entertained.

How is plastic made from oil?

How does the crude oil that comes out of the ground become a TV, vacuum cleaner, R/C car, or phone? It turns out, many people don’t know plastic is even made with oil. It can be made from different natural, organic materials, but most commonly, the process begins with crude oil. It’s separated into separate components, called fractions. One of these fractions is naptha, a crucial ingredient for making plastic.

The process goes like this:

  1. Raw materials, such as crude oil, are extracted from the ground.

  2. These materials are refined, or transformed into chemicals that are separated and used for various purposes, including plastic.

  3. Polymerization occurs, which is just a term for converting gases into polymers.

  4. The last step is compounding, where different materials are blending together to make plastics.

Generally, plastics are grouped into two families:

  • Thermoplastics, that soften with heat and harden with cold, account for 92% of plastics. You might see these in your daily life as shrink wrap on food, building blocks (Legos!), the handle of a tool, or a length of rope. Since they can be softened, they can be reused, but are not chemically resistant or resistant to heat.

  • Thermosets or thermosetting plastics, that once molded, do not soften or harden further, account for the remaining 8%. A good example of this would be epoxy or glue, where two substances are mixed together to create a reaction that hardens them. They can also be found in electrical connectors and other areas where heat and chemical resistance is important.

Making plastic is a much more complex process than we will cover here in this blog, but below is a great video covering how plastic is made in just a few minutes.

And, to reward you for making it this far, and to aid in a little zen, see how colors are added to silicon and plastics:

Happy Friday & Stay Safe!

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