The term ‘polymer’ is relatively diverse. All plastic is considered a polymer, which is a term that refers to a long repetitive chain of molecules. The value in plastic is that it can be shaped when soft and retain its shape once hard. Biopolymers are found in nature, and synthetic polymers are engineered to have specific properties. People have used naturally occurring polymers for thousands of years.
Did you know keratin is a naturally occurring polymer? Keratin is found in our skin, hair, and nails. It is also found in animal claws, wool, horns, hooves, and feathers. Other naturally occurring polymers include cellulose, starch, latex, silk, leather, chitin, tar, amber, and even DNA. Natural polymers are a part of you and many things in your home. Think about your wood furniture. Wood is primarily made of cellulose, which is a polymer. The cotton clothes you wear are also a form of cellulose.
Biopolymers have come back into play in recent years with the circular economy ideology. A circular economy is a system that looks to minimize or eliminate as much material and energy waste as possible through design changes, maintenance, recycling and upcycling. Many groups are looking to eliminate certain products like single-use plastics that are causing harm to our environment. There is a lot of promise in bioplastics such as plastic made from wood pulp or derived from the keratin in chicken feathers.
Come back next week to read Part Two about the early history of humanmade plastic.
IVP Plastics was founded over 60 years ago and has experience in processing more than 140 custom plastic materials, specializing in reinforced and high-temperature materials.