Plastics are best thought of as a group of semi-synthetic or purely synthetic solids that are utilized in the creation of consumer, medical and industrial products. Mostly, plastics are polymers, which consist of large molecules that are composed of repeating chemical bonds. Plastics can contain additional substances like colorants and even glass; that work to improve their performance or lower the costs of production. There are two general types of plastics: thermosetting polymers and thermoplastics. Thermoplastics are those which do not undergo any chemical change when heated and can be heated and molded multiple times. Thermosetting polymers can only be heated and shaped once after which they stay solid. Plastics are used for a broad range of applications that span across many industries and purposes. One of the most important uses of plastics is its role in protecting and saving lives.
Plastics has had a role in saving people’s lives since their development several decades ago. One of the most significant ways in which plastic has been used in a lifesaving manner has been in child protection. Plastics are used to make a number of safety devices for children and babies including safety gates and child safety seats which protect children from accidents and falls. Plastic incubators protect premature infants in hospital settings, from infection and viruses. And while Bisphenol-A in baby bottles has been an issue of late, safe plastics that can be used to manufacture items that will come in contact with infants are polyamide, polypropylene and polyethylene.
Plastics are also used to protect the lives of workers in various industries. Consider the uses and functions of something as simple as helmets. Helmets are required gear in the U.S. military. In 2009, the U.S. Army introduced a new and improved helmet. The new U.S. Army helmet is made of polyethylene. This helmet has the ability to rebuff the penetration of an enemy’s rifle rounds. Older helmets that the U.S. Army used were comprised of materials such as Kevlar and Twaron to protect American soldiers. While the old helmets also contained plastic, these new helmets are thought to be superior to those made of Kevlar.
Another life saving helmet that we may be more familiar with is the construction helmet. People employed in the building trades wear plastic helmets on work sites to protect their heads from falling objects. Cyclists and motorcycle riders wear helmets to protect their head in case of an accident. On duty, many police officers wear Kevlar vests to protect their torso from bullets. Kevlar is a type of reinforced polymer with great strenght.
Plastic is so commonplace in today’s society that everyone across all demographics is afforded some degree of protection due to its use. Plastics protect consumers while they are driving with the use of plastic in the seatbelts. Required equipment in all cars today. The use of plastic fibers (industrial strength polyester) in seatbelts makes today's belts lighter and more comfortable than the old belts made of nylon. In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released an estimate wherein it stated that seatbelts with plastic fiber were instrumental in helping to save as many as 15,147 lives just in the United States. Seatbelt innovation is continuing and engineers are trying to come up with a new plastic fiber that will allow seatbelts to stretch when the vehicle is involved in an accident. This stretchy fiber will help to limit crash force and absorb energy which will reduce injuries. Airbags, another important safety feature in vehicles, are partially made from plastic fibers. Airbags pop out in the case of a collision and absorb some of the force of the crash, thereby protecting the vehicle's occupants.
Plastics can be made of either semi-synthetic or completely synthetic materials and have a broad range of uses that humans are exposed to everyday. Some of the best uses of plastic since its discovery, is in the numerous applications that help to save lives; as in flotation devices, breathing appratus, plastic gloves and bullet proof glass, which is not glass at all, but a glass reinforced polymer. Professionals, blue collar workers, nurses, and homemakers alike, all benefit from the lifesaving properties of plastic in their daily lives. The invention of plastic has been beneficial to society in countless ways and has saved many lives since it was first introduced into society in the 1800s.