While this is a common question that we see among students, in brief we can say that all plastics are polymers. However, not all polymers are plastic and students need to keep this in mind. To elaborate, plastics are a specific type of polymer that is usually synthetically prepared. They do not occur naturally.
Plastics are manufactured by either addition or condensation polymerization reactions. Addition polymerization reaction involves the formation of polymers where the monomers create double bonds with the given carbon atoms. Condensation reaction involves the formation of polymers when two monomers are joined together leaving out the water molecule.
Plastic is mainly derived from oil or petroleum. Plastic polymers come with a large molecular mass and their structure is mostly linear. Bakelite was the first synthetic plastic that was produced in the year 1909 where it was used mainly as telephone and electrical components.
Classification Of Plastics as Polymers
Plastics have a polymeric structure and are mainly grouped under synthetic and semi-synthetic polymers. They are further classified either as thermosetting polymers or thermoplastic polymers.
- Thermosetting polymers also called thermo-sets are the ones that solidify into a permanent shape and design. They do not melt once formed. Some of the properties also include being amorphous and having infinite molecular weight. Manufactured polymers are known as thermoset polymers.
- Thermoplastics can be heated and reformed over and over again for an unlimited amount of time. They can have a partially crystalline structure or be amorphous. Manufactured polymers are basically called thermoplastic polymers having one-dimensional chains that can be easily melted.
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Examples and Uses of Plastics:
Some of the common examples of plastics are Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC), vinyl, polypropylene and polycarbonates such as bisphenol A (BPA).
If we talk about the application, plastic is used extensively in different components in many products such as bottles, fibres, toys, decors, electronic goods and appliances, luggage, vehicles, etc.
In any case, the key difference between polymers and plastics is that plastic is a specific type of polymer. Plastics consist of a long chain of polymers, whereas polymers are generally made up of smaller, uniform molecules. Polymers can be either inorganic or biological but plastics are purely synthetic and mostly man-made.