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Home > The World of Plastics & Recycling > Why Plastic, Why Plastic Packaging > How are plastics made?

How are plastics made?

Plastic is produced from oil, which begins with a distillation process in a refinery. This involves the separation of heavy crude oil into lighter groups called fractions. Each fraction is a mixture of hydrocarbon chains (chemical compounds made up of carbon and hydrogen), which differ in terms of the size and structure of their molecules. One of these fractions, naphtha, is the crucial element for the production of plastics.

There are many different types of plastics, and they can be grouped into two main polymer families:

  • Thermoplastics

Thermoplastics are the plastics that do not undergo chemical change in their composition when heated and can be molded again and again. Examples include polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride. 

  • Thermosets

Thermosets can melt and take shape once but after they have solidified, they stay solid. In the thermosetting process, a chemical reaction occurs that is irreversible. The vulcanization of rubber is a thermosetting process.

More information on plastics and polymers can be found here http://www.plasticseurope.org/what-is-plastic/types-of-plastics-11148.aspx

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