Because of their role in global pollution, plastics are hugely controversial.
But the resilient, supple, light and malleable materials play a key role in our lives and, according to experts, will remain crucial for a long time to come. Here are a few things to know about the world of plastic.
Various raw materials make up building blocks of the plastic. Monomers build more complex molecules called polymers — the scientific name for plastics. There are two families of polymers. The classic production process involves the distillation and refining of fuel or natural gas, breaking down hydrocarbons.
Thermoplastics, accounting for some 80 per cent of global plastics consumption, melt when they are heated and then harden when cooled. Then there are thermosets, that do not soften after moulding.
Five polymers account for the majority — 71 percent — of global plastics consumption.
First, there is polyethylene, found above all in single-use packaging, then polypropylene, used in car bumpers, dashboards and drinking straws.
Next up is polystyrene, used for packaging, insulation panels and yoghurt pots. There is also polyvinyl chloride — better known as PVC — used in windows and drains — and then polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly used for synthetic fibres or bottles.
There is much innovation in conventional plastics, with new properties being added to maximise performance. Lighter is better, and slimming the volume of plastic is a constant challenge, not least to reduce the amount of plastic clogging the oceans and to wage war on waste.
But lighter plastic also means lighter finished products, including in tra-nsport. “The need for lightness in auto transport is a massive innovation factor,” Christophe Cabarry, founder and president of SpecialChem, an online platform connecting sellers and buyers of chemicals and materials, said.