From contact lenses to aeroplanes, Tupperware to swimsuits, plastics innovations have improved our everyday lives and made modern life easier, cheaper and faster. Whilst the issue of single use plastics is a hot topic that needs swift change and far greater recycling, most uses of plastics are beneficial to us and not just in terms of convenience. Modern cars are approximately 50% plastic by volume, but only 10% plastic in weight – significantly reducing petrol use and emissions. Medical breakthroughs are improving and saving lives, plastic catheters are used to unblock blood vessels, and coronary stents made from a special polymer that eventually dissolves are being used to treat heart conditions.
Access to clean water is a basic human right, but for many millions of people around the world it is still a luxury. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) water pipes have revolutionised access to clean water, helping to provide safe, uncontaminated water and sanitation.
Replacing galvanised metal pipes with non-corrosive heat-resistant PVC pipes reduces the risk of water contamination. Using plastic also reduces leakage repairs. PVC is far cheaper to produce, lighter to transport and has a service life of more than 100 years!
Plastic Surgery & Prosthetics
Most plastic and cosmetic surgeries don’t actually use plastic (the term plastic surgery predates the invention of plastic by about 100 hundred years, and comes from the Greek word “plastikos” which means “to mould or shape”). However, plastics are used to replace missing limbs, in joint replacements and in implants – including artificial corneas. Flexible, strong and lightweight plastics have dramatically improved the functionality of artificial limbs, with modern advancements meaning increased comfort and better control for the user.
Wires and Cables
Our homes contain miles of wires and cabling, thousands of miles of cables connect our homes to electricity, phone lines and the internet. Transatlantic communication cables, known as submarine cables, connect the world with hundreds of thousands of miles of cabling under the sea. Cheaper and faster than satellites, we rely on these cables for our communications and internet access (and spies have been relying on them for information since the cold war!).
The electricity cabling in our homes and connecting to the grid is of course sheathed in plastic. Plastic is a great insulator, keeping cables safe to use and preventing fires – prior to plastic casings, wires would be exposed, or wrapped in cloth, rubber or paper, highly dangerous materials! Plastic sheathes are durable, flexible and last for decades. Without plastic wires and cables, we wouldn’t have such readily available electricity, television, internet or phone lines safely connecting us to the world.
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