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Plastic has benefited our society in a number of ways. In fact, plastic has helped aeronautics technology take giant steps forward over the past 50 years, including advancements in satellites, shuttles, aircraft, and missiles. As a result, civilian air travel has improved, as well as military air power and space exploration. In addition, the building and construction, electronics, packaging, and transportation industries have all benefited greatly from plastic.
Plastics are a subset of materials known as Polymers. These are composed of large molecules formed by joining many smaller molecules together (monomers). Other kinds of polymers are fibres, elastomers, surface coating and biopolymers, such as cellulose, proteins and nucleic acids. Plastics owe their name to their ability to be shaped to form articles of practical value by various conversion and forming processes. These are some peculiar properties of plastics materials, which make them unique so that products can literally be tailor-made out of these materials. In fact, plastics have permeated every facet of human life viz. agriculture and water consumption, building construction, communication, small and bulk packaging, education, medicine, transportation, defence, consumer durables to name a few. One of the reasons for great popularity of plastics is due to tremendous range of properties exhibited by them because of their ease of processing.
Hence, the demand for plastics has been increasing in modern living. Since last six decades, the Plastic Industry has grown worldwide with present consumption of more than 130 MMTPA. The Polymer/Plastic growth worldwide has been steady around 6% per annum which is much higher than the GDP growth rate of 3.3%. The higher growth sectors or demand drivers for plastic consumption are consumer and bulk packaging, plastic culture, building construction, electrical and electronics, automotive, consumer goods, medical, telecommunication, furniture and household applications. The output value of commodity, engineering and high performance polymers was US$115 billion, accounting for about 7% of total chemical output value globally .In India, however, the consumption of major plastics is only 3% of global consumption i.e. 4 million tons annually. This is very low as compared to global levels.
Plastics have a very strong correlation with economic growth. The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) and NCAER have analysed various industry sectors for the input-output matrix to study the effect of growth of various sectors on GDP growth. Out of 115 sectors analysed, the Plastic Resin and Synthetic Fibres sectors rank a high 37. The importance of this sector can be gauged from the fact that one unit increase in the output value for the plastics sector reflects an increase of 2.38 units in the economy. Over the years the demand elasticity of polymer growth in comparison with GDP growth has been about 2.4 which is in line with the NCAER study. The growth of Plastic consumption worldwide as well as in India is inevitable and desirable, because multiple advantages that these materials provide. Some examples are given below as illustrations.
Plastics help improve quality of life: The Internet, globalisation, increased speed of communication, faster means of transportation, the advance of surgical medicine – all these would not be possible without plastics. Continuous technological innovation by the plastics industry means that even more efficient, lightweight and adaptable forms of plastics are being developed for an increasing range of uses. It is these advances that allow plastics to play an important role in the pursuit of sustainable development, by bringing innovative solutions to the full range of challenges facing society. Preserve land, water and forest resources: Plastics have been providing help to tackle the world’s water distribution crisis, with affordable, easily constructed piping providing solutions to clean water shortages for 5.5 million people in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Also the use of plastics drastically reduced the use of traditional usage of wood and other forest products thus resulting in reduction of deforestation.
Enable efficient use of non-renewable energy resources: It is estimated that the use of plastics as a whole actually saves more oil than is needed for their manufacture. At end-of-life, plastics can be a valuable alternative energy source in their own right. Plastics recycling continue to increase in world while energy recovery is a responsible use of our oil resources, diverting waste from landfill and helping to preserve fossil fuels. Tapping the sun and wind is already bringing clean and efficient energy to people world-wide and is greatly facilitated by the use of plastics that constitute major parts of the cells and turbines. Possess a more favourable cost-benefit ratio: Continuous improvements in the material itself and recovery technologies mean that, in the future, packaging will become even lighter and more resource-efficient. The recently introduced Smart Card – largely made of plastics – is a sign of things to come.
Has a very versatile range of applications: Plastics have proved to have a wide range of applications in a large number of fields and their applications are increasing due to advantage of low cost, high durability and easy availability. Plastics are treated as versatile materials since the properties of these materials can be tailored to meet specific demands by varying molecular weight, molecular weight distribution and side chain branching. Further making copolymers and polymer blends and alloys provide on mechanism for providing a synergism in properties and tailor making materials for specific applications. Plastics, therefore, clearly form a material of choice in a large number of commercial applications. The demand of Plastics will be further driven by: Population growth and urbanisation, Opening of rural markets, Explosive Indian middle class, Effective Media Network, Increased Purchasing Power, Higher Disposable Incomes, Successful Marketing, Brand Awareness and Rising Aspirations.
The Importance of Plastics in Medical Field Technology
Perhaps the greatest technological advancements in human society have evolved through the medical professions. Over the years technology has prolonged the average life span of an adult human by offering preventative vaccines, diagnostic tools, and comprehensive treatments. But smaller advancements — such as the materials and tools used by medical professionals on a daily basis — are often overlooked. Plastic is a prime example of a technology that fails to receive the credit it is due for changing the way medicine is practiced and creating a better experience for all involved. Early medical instruments were made of metals prone to rusting and inaccuracy. Large and far from precise, these tools were difficult to sterilize and likely contributed to a wealth of infections when used between patients.
Even today, some medical instruments are made of stainless steel. Though the metal is easier to sterilize than its antique iron counterpart, surgical steel is still not designed to be flexible and has limitations in size and weight. Plastics, however, can be moulded to any shape or size. They are easily sterilized and more flexible than metal, allowing for greater manoeuvrability and precision. The cost of producing a plastic tool is much less than a stainless steel model, allowing a hospital or doctor’s office to adjust their budget for other technologies such as digital imaging software. But the use of plastics in the medical field is not confined solely to medical tools.
An increasing amount of hospital devices are now being manufactured from plastic, enabling maximum cleanliness and efficiency. Additionally, plastics are the leading component in most replacement limbs, providing advancements in prosthetics that could never be accomplished with aluminium or other materials. As medical professionals continue to utilize plastics in their day-to-day practice, the material is quickly evolving to meet the needs of an industry that survives due to the ingenuity of technological advancements.
Plastic is one of the most used materials in today’s world because of its properties as lightweight and durable material. Its popularity, however, is also its curse. We are using more plastic products than ever before and filling our landfills with plastic waste that does not biodegrade for centuries. Plastic recycling, however, is one of the easiest ways for you to be environmentally friendly, and recycling and lengthening the lifespan of plastic products are important for the health of our planet. Hydrocarbons form all or part of many of the materials we use in our society. Plastic is so useful because the polymer chains can be manipulated to serve practically any purpose. Flexible, soft and hard. They are insulating to electricity. The list is endless, and yes, I am passionate about plastic.