As plastics are widely used in so many areas we may ask ourselves how we lived without them in the past - in sports where plastics enable people to beat records, as well as in medicine, construction, packaging and communications. We continue to improve their properties so they become ever more sophisticated.
However, in the beginning, the basic concept connected with the use of plastics involved treating them as a substitute for other valuable and rare materials. Celluloid, as probably the most famous of the first plastics, was a replacement for ivory.
Materials traditionally used in the manufacture of various types of packaging, such as wood, glass and metal, are increasingly being replaced by plastics. It is estimated that about 20-25% of packaging is now made of plastics. They often appear as different forms of film (sacks, bags and handbags, and packaging film). Bottles are also manufactured from plastics, using the 'pipe' extrusion method, where by means of inflation in a form we can manufacture a hollow package. Rigid packaging made from expanded polystyrene has very important and extensive applications. In the construction industry, plastics are used as elements of interior equipment, with various types of floor coverings, window frames and doors being produced from plastics. Roofing is also made from plastics, while rails and skirting boards are produced from PVC. Plastics are used in the manufacture of wallpaper, especially those with special properties such as insulation. Materials with a great future in construction are the so-called polymer concretes composed of mineral plastics mixed with synthetic resins. Such materials are characterized by high strength, although they remain very expensive. Plastic products are slowly beginning to replace traditional fittings, even pipelines, but so far they have relatively low resistance to high temperature liquids, especially when under pressure.
Obviously, plastics are widely used in households, with many devices and other equipment being made from them. Plastics also serve a variety of functions in agriculture; for example, polyethylene film considerably increased the possibilities of greenhouse cultivation, both as a construction element and as a covering for the support structure. Plastic pipes are used for supplying water and for direct irrigation. Perforated PVC pipes are often used for land irrigation and drainage. Various kinds of pots and thin plates used to shield plants from harmful agents, especially low temperatures, are also made from PVC film. Plastic utensils and equipment used for breeding positions for various animals greatly facilitate their use. They also allow for easy cleaning and disinfection of the premises.
There have also been a number of changes occurring in the textile industry in recent years as a result of the progressive introduction of larger amounts of synthetically obtained fibres. The first fibres of this type were created in the late 19th century, with significant importance being assigned to them in the nineteen twenties and thirties. The main advantage of these types of fibre is that they are much cheaper than the vast majority of natural fibres. Synthetic fibres are also generally much more durable; moreover, they can be produced in the vicinity of the outlet, while natural fibres often require specific environmental (especially climatic) conditions. This, of course, lowers the cost of their manufacture. The most important synthetic fibres include nylon and various types of acrylic and polyester fibres. The exceptional versatility of plastics means they are used increasingly frequently in the packaging, construction, transportation, electrical, electronic, automotive, agriculture, medical and sports industries.
The possible applications of plastics are virtually endless; they are materials which allow us to create customized solutions to various user requirements, acting as a virtually limitless source of innovation in different sectors and areas of both industry and life.