12.03.2007

Um, how on earth did I miss this?

I was quietly weeding easy nonfiction books today. A pleasant task. While browsing through a book on materials, I came across this simple statement: plastic is made from oil.

I never really thought about it before. I think I assumed plastic was manufactured using some kind of random scientific process like this one, involving 'polymers.' Polymers sounds pretty innocuous, but after digging a little deeper on the chemistry archive, the polymers for consumable and industrial strength plastic are built using ethylene. Specifically, molecules of the material have to react with one another and end up joined, so that you can make huge long molecules (polymers) that are chains of the molecules you started out with (monomers). For example, ethylene, a common component of natural gas, reacts to form very long polyethylene molecules, the stuff out of which plastic bags and milk bottles are made. According to AmericanChemistry, other pure forms of carbon, like coal, can be used to make plastic too. Huh.

We had a Go Green display at the library when we stopped offering plastic bags, and part of that display included little factoids, which I apparently didn't read. One of the factoids read "when 1 ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil are saved." What other connections have I neglected to make? I wonder.

2 comments:

amanda said...

Pretty crazy, huh? Did you know that my brother did his post-doctoral research on this very subject, but using corn to make plastic...It's really all beyond me, but he even has a patent to go along with some part of this!

Kat said...

hmmmmm. I suck. :)