Where it Comes From and Where it Goes: The Benefits and Detriments of Plastic

Student: Hayley Gower


Primary Mentor: Dr. JoAnn Peters (Chemistry Department)
Secondary Mentor: Dr. Anne Johansen (Chemistry Department)


In recent years, the amount of plastic waste has become a huge environmental issue. This paper describes the history of plastics, the pros and cons to its uses, how plastics are made and how they degrade, and finally to describe solutions to the problem of growing plastic waste. Most plastics are made by one of two chemical syntheses: addition (chain growth) or condensation (step growth) polymerization. Most common plastics are derived from petroleum, but some are derived from plants. Biodegradable plastics can be derived from petroleum or plants, but they are more expensive to produce and can be lacking in performance. Arguably the most impactful solution to the problem of increasing plastic pollution would be to implement the use of reusable packaging and containers. Other solutions include implementing more recycling facilities and using shorter-lifespan materials, such as biodegradable plastics or paper, for single-use purposes.


5 thoughts on “Where it Comes From and Where it Goes: The Benefits and Detriments of Plastic”

  1. Nice job! I learned something about the different kinds of plastics. Your recommendations make a lot of sense: reuse, recycle, or make sure single use items degrade more rapidly.

    1. Good question! For the most part, no. You cannot say something like, “Polymers that undergo addition polymerization degrade more easily than those that undergo condensation polymerization.” That is not true. What matters more is the materials (monomer(s), initiators, and additives) used rather than the process itself. What is most important though, are the properties of the final polymer. In my research, I have yet to find an additive used during the the polymerization process that makes the final polymer more degradable.

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