The topic of plastic is an extremely contentious one at present and with good reason. It’s one of the most widely used and versatile products ever invented and its use is unlikely to go away any time soon. That is not to say that we cannot be concerned with the abundance of it and any ways or ensuring better plastic recycling or multi use plastics will benefit everyone, however it is also good to know the different forms of plastic out there and how they can be used dependant on type.
What can be said in a defence of plastics is the same as can be said against it. Regardless of its flexibility, the substance is specifically designed to be durable, regardless of its purpose. Sure, it can be bent and squashed out of shape, but whether it’s as a film or children’s toy, it is hard to argue that plastic will break without some significant force behind it.
So, with this durability in mind, what are the key differences between flexible and rigid plastic? As we know, plastic comes in a spectrum of uses, ranging from wrapping to solid piping, all of which are purpose build for their durability.
Firstly, let us look at flexible plastics.
Think for a minute of just how much flexible plastic is used in your day-to-day life? It’s highly likely you will have a roll of cling film in your cupboard. Buy a meal deal today? Crisps and chocolate are wrapped in flexible plastic. Did you use a carrier bag to transport said meal deal? More flexible plastic. There are many places that are moving to plant-based plastics for carrier bags, but they are still flexible plastics, even though they’re biodegradable. How about buying a new phone, did you have to peel off a protective sheet off of the screen? Again, flexible plastics.
One could argue that flexible plastics are the often the most prevalent, and it’s easy to see why. They’re certainly the ones that are most likely to be single use. How often to you reuse cling-film? You’re hardly going to keep a Haribo packet once the contents are gone, and the sight of disused carrier bags casually floating in the oceans is a depressingly familiar sight. The way many flexible plastics are made makes it difficult for them to be recycled too, although advances in filtering have meant that burning these plastics at garbage disposal plants results in significantly less toxic material polluting the atmosphere.
But not all flexible plastics are single use though. Look at bubble-wrap, a particularly popular product here at Packitsafe. How many of us have kept a sheet of bubble-wrap for future use? Unless you’re sat deliberately popping the bubbles, it’s a product that is built for its durability and reuse. Couple with this with the fact that the Sealed Air Company, the creators of bubble-wrap, have designed bubbles that can not be popped, and you have a product that has a greatly increased shelf life.
They’ve been around for years but think about resealable bags. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t do this, however there is no reason why a bag can be cleaned after use and be recommissioned for another purpose.
Now what about more rigid plastics? These are also a lot of these in your home. Think about cooking utensils. While there has been a consistent move towards more silicone-based products in recent years, that doesn’t mean plastic utensils are lacking. How many handles for your pots and pans are made of dense, fire-retardant plastic?
There is also a whole heap of plastic hidden from view that is all over your house. Water and sewage pipes are made from reinforced plastic. Sewage pipes especially are deliberately built to withstand punishment as they are buried underground. Water piping tends to be a mix of plastic and copper as, even with the best intensions, hot water will melt plastic over time.
But rigidity is not just about appliances or utensils either. Do you have young children? Chances are their toys are nearly entirely plastic. Think of action figures, Playmobile, or Lego. They have to be durable and what more durable a building material is there than plastic? It’s why old Star Wars toys that have never been opened fetch for large sums of money at auction: the plastic has not worn down.
While it may be the route of a lot of problems, there’s no denying that plastic is an extraordinarily versatile material. And while we have to be mindful of its uses, there is no reason why, if you’re sensible, it can’t be an incredibly useful tool.