Learn the basics about the uses of polymers, as a part of organic chemistry. Learn about PVC and PTFE.
Different polymers have their specific uses and also problems associated with polymers.
Polymers are long chain organic molecules made by repeating monomer units. There are a number of natural polymers in life such as rubber. Even in our own body we have natural polymers such as proteins, carbohydrates and DNA to name a few.
Synthetic polymers are commonly known as plastics, which are used very frequently in our day to day lives – from simple packaging to complex structural building materials. However, the increased use of plastic in our homes leads to a lot of waste. Some of this can be recycled to minimise the effects on our environment but a long term goal of many chemists is to develop more biodegradable plastics which would naturally break down in our environment.
Here are some specific examples of polymers and their common uses:
Polyethene – use for carrier bags and sheet plastics
Polystyre used in packaging.
HDPE , high density polyethene used for drain pipes, water bottles and containers
Polypropene – use for bottle caps, plastic bottles and plastic pipes
Poly(chloroethene) often know as PVC and is used for windows and door frames, plastic hinges and bottles.
Poly(1,1,2,2, tetrafluroethene) also know as PTFE – which is a none stick coating on frying pans as well as bearings and low friction surfaces.
Kevlar – a bullet and stab proof jackets
Nylon – textiles, clothing and carpets
Polymers play a huge role in our day to day lives and their use is wide and varied owing to their unique individual properties. It is important to understand that most of the alkene monomers are obtained in some part from crude oil and therefore it is critical that we recycle plastics to conserve our natural resources for the future manufacture of these polymers. There are also big problems with the disposal of polymers. The biggest problem with polymers is that they are non-biodegradable which means that micro-organism cannot naturally break them down – this also repeats the need to recycle. Disposal of polymers by burning or incineration is a possibility as this generates heat which can be used to generate electricity. However, the burning of polymers produces many toxic gases which themselves can damage the environment and cause pollution.
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