Polymers in Everyday Life

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Polymers are a part of our every day life and without them around, this world would be very, very different, if not impossible to live in. However, most people do not even know what a polymer is, or just how widespread they are around us. Polymers are formed from hydrocarbons, hydrocarbon derivatives, or sometimes from silicon. They are the basis not only for numerous natural materials, but also for most of the synthetic plastics that one encounters in their lives. Polymers consist of extremely large, chain-like molecules that are, in turn, made up of numerous smaller, repeating units called monomers. There are a few different types of polymers that exist. There are natural polymers, which consist of wool, hair, rubber, etc., as well as many synthetic polymers which would include nylon, synthetic rubber, polyester, Teflon, and so forth. Polymers are everywhere, so much so that it is very difficult to spend a day without encountering a natural polymer, even if hair is removed from the list. In fact, in the day and age that we live in, it is probably even harder to avoid synthetic polymers, which have together revolutionized our society. There are many polymers that exist in nature, such as silk, cotton, starch, sand, and yes, even asbestos. There are even more complex natural polymers that are incredibly complex, such as a persons DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which hold genetic codes. Synthetic (artificial) polymers, which will be the focal point of the paper, would include plastics like Styrofoam and Saran wrap; fibers such as nylon and Dacron (polyester); and other materials such as Formica, Teflon, and PVC pipe. Polymers are all around us, but let’s make this thought of polymers more real to us, and imagine the typical day of a hypothetical teenage girl. She wakes up, and is so comfortable in her nice warm bed with the sheets all around her. Chances are that those sheets she has on her consist of tons of polymers. Then she finally gets up and out of bed, and goes to brush her teeth with a toothbrush made of nylon (more polymers!), then opens the shower door which more than likely is made of plastic rather than glass. After the shower of course, she would need to try off, and chances are that she’d be drying off with a towel containing the polymer rayon. If she is like most girls, she is going to put on makeup (containing polymers) that comes in littler plastic containers. Her clothes, much like her bed sheets, are more than likely to contain materials that are made of polymers. Then as she walks to the kitchen for breakfast before school, she unknowingly is walking on polymers since her floor probably has a plastic coating on it. As she starts to make her lunch there are as you might have guessed by now, more polymers around her. The saran wrap she uses to wrap her sandwich in, the baggy she uses to put her chips in, all made of plastic. This is all before she even leaves her house! And so her average day to school continues. The cell phone she uses to call or text her friends, the computer she sits at in the computer lab, the PA systems at school, they all contain some form of polymers. The bus or car that she rides to and from school contains numerous plastic molds in the steering wheel and dashboard. Then she arrives home and wants to listen to music as she does homework. She chooses a CD (which has a plastic coating on it) and pulls it out of a plastic jewel case (more polymers). Then, finally, as her night comes to an end, she will sleep in sheets and with a pillow that contains synthetic polymers.

The hypothetical scenario of the day in the life of a typical teenage girl mentioned above described a society and a world surrounded by polymers, synthetic materials, and plastics. It was not always this way however. Not even a hundred years ago almost everything that people used were made out of materials that had been around since thousands of years ago: metal, stone, wood, and animal and plant fibers. There are...
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