7 Different Types of Plastic and How They Are Used

The world is full of plastics. Whether you realize it or not, practically everything you see and use on a daily basis is entirely or partly plastic material. Your television, computer, car, house, refrigerator, and many other essential products utilize plastic materials to make your life easier and more straightforward.  However, all plastics are not made alike. Manufacturers utilize a variety of different plastic materials and compounds that each possess unique properties. 

Below is 7 of the most popular and commonly used plastics:  

  • Acrylic or Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA)
  • Polycarbonate (PC)
  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS)

Let’s take a look at each of these distinctive plastics in more detail.  

1. Acrylic or Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA)

Well-known for its use in optical devices and products, acrylic is a transparent thermoplastic used as a lightweight, shatter-resistant alternative to glass. Acrylic is typically used in sheet form create products such as acrylic mirrors and acrylic plexiglass. The transparent plastic can be made colored and fluorescent, abrasion-resistant, bullet-resistant, UV-tolerant, non-glare, anti-static and many more. In addition to being than glass and polycarbonate sheeting, acrylic is seventeen times more impact resistant than glass, easier to handle and process, and has endless applications.  

2. Polycarbonate (PC)

Tough, stable, and transparent, polycarbonate is an excellent engineering plastic that is as clear as glass and two hundred and fifty times stronger. Thirty times stronger than acrylic, clear polycarbonate sheets are also easily worked, molded, and thermo-formed or cold-formed. Although extremely strong and impact-resistant, polycarbonate plastic possesses inherent design flexibility. Unlike glass or acrylic, polycarbonate plastic sheets can be cut or cold-formed on site without pre-forming and fabrication. Polycarbonate plastic is in a wide variety of products including greenhouses, DVDs, sunglasses, police riot gear, and more.             

3. Polyethylene (PE)

The most common plastic on earth, polyethylene can be manufactured in varying densities. Each different density of polyethylene gives the final plastic unique physical properties. As a result, polyethylene is in a wide variety of products.  

Here are the four common polyethylene densities:  

  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

This density of polyethylene is ductile and used to make products like shopping bags, plastic bags, clear food containers, disposable packaging, etc.  

  • Medium-Density Polyethylene (MDPE)

Possessing more polymer chains and, thus, greater density, MDPE is typically in gas pipes, shrink film, carrier bags, screw closures, and more.

  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

More rigid than both LDPE and MDPE, HDPE plastic sheeting is in products such as plastic bottles, piping for water and sewer, snowboards, boats, and folding chairs.    

  • Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE)

UHMWPE is not much denser than HDPE. Compared to HDPE, this polyethylene plastic much more abrasion resistant due to the extreme length of its polymer chains. Possessing high density and low friction properties, UHMWPE is in military body armor, hydraulic seals and bearings, biomaterial for hip, knee, and spine implants, and artificial ice skating rinks.  

4. Polypropylene (PP)

This plastic material is a thermoplastic polymer and the world’s second-most widely produced synthetic plastic. Its widespread use and popularity are undoubted because polypropylene is one of the most flexible thermoplastics on the planet. Although PP is stronger than PE, it still retains flexibility. It will not crack under repeated stress. Durable, flexible, heat resistant, acid resistance, and cheap, polypropylene sheets are used to make laboratory equipment, automotive parts, medical devices, and food containers. Just to name a few.  

5. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)

The most common thermoplastic resin of the polyester family, PET is the fourth-most produced synthetic plastic. Polyethylene Terephthalate has excellent chemical resistance to organic materials and water and is easily recyclable. It is practically shatterproof and possesses an impressive high strength to weight ratio. This plastic material is in fibers for clothing, containers for foods and liquid, glass fiber for engineering resins, carbon nanotubes, and many other products that we use on a daily basis.  

6. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

The third-most produced synthetic plastic polymer, PVC can be manufactured to possess rigid or flexible properties. It is well-known for its ability to blend with other materials. For example, expanded PVC sheets are a foamed polyvinyl chloride material that is ideal products like kiosks, store displays, and exhibits. The rigid form of PVC is commonly in construction materials, doors, windows, bottles, non-food packaging, and more. With the addition of plasticizers such as phthalates, the softer and more flexible form of PVC is in plumbing products, electrical cable insulation, clothing, medical tubing, and other similar products.  

7. Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS)

Created by polymerizing styrene and acrylonitrile in the presence of polybutadiene, ABS is robust, flexible, glossy, highly processable, and impact resistant. It can be manufactured in a range of thicknesses from 200 microns to 5mm with a maximum width of 1600mm. With a relatively low manufacturing cost, ABS plastic sheeting is typically used in the automotive and refrigeration industries but is also in products such as boxes, gauges, protective headgear, luggage, and children’s toys.  

To learn more about industrial plastic and its infinite uses, call or contact A&C Plastics, Inc.

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