What’s the Difference Between Polymers and Plastics?

Polymer vs Plastic

Polymers and Plastics are encountered in everyday life and used for a variety of purposes. A large number of everyday household items are comprised of plastics and polymers. If someone asked you on the spot to explain the differences between polymer vs plastic, would you be able to give a cohesive answer? Today we discuss the straight forward differences between the two, provide some everyday use examples of plastics and polymers, and list the pros and cons of each.

The key difference between polymers and plastics is that plastic is a specific type of polymer. Plastics are comprised of a long chain of polymers, where polymers are composed of smaller, uniform molecules.

What Are Polymers?

Polymers are lengthy chain compounds composed of monomers. A monomer is a molecule that can be bonded to other identical molecules. Polymers are basically enormous molecules made with a massive amount of smaller, identical molecules. Polymers have a different physical and chemical makeup than their monomers, and more uniquely, their properties can be tailored depending on their main purpose. There are several types of polymers. Addition polymers are formed when the monomers form double bonds with the given carbon atoms. Condensation polymers are produced when two monomers are joined and the water molecule is removed. There are also naturally occurring and man-made polymers.

Polymer Applications

  • Lubricants
  • Adhesives
  • Films
  • Paints
  • Fibers

Pros

  • Cheap to make
  • Versatile
  • Sometimes recyclable

Cons

  • Made from oil
  • Gives off toxic fumes when burned
  • Types that can’t be recycled increase recycling expenses

What Are Plastics?

Plastics are semi-organic materials that come from oil or petroleum. They are routinely labeled as polymers, as they are comprised of polymers. Plastics are produced by condensation and addition polymerization reactions. They are classified either as thermosetting polymers or thermoplastic polymers. Thermosetting polymers solidify into a permanent design and shape. Thermoplastic polymers can be heated and remolded for an unlimited amount of time.

Plastic Applications

  • Containers
  • Toys
  • Sporting goods
  • Automotive parts
  • Aerospace parts

Pros

  • Extremely versatile
  • Flexible
  • Durable
  • Translucent (can be a suitable substitute for glass)

Cons

  • Some types can’t be recycled
  • Production and elimination emits chemicals harmful to environment