Science, Tech, Math › Science Common Plastics We Use Every Single Day Share Flipboard Email Print Westend61/Getty Images Science Chemistry Chemistry In Everyday Life Basics Chemical Laws Molecules Periodic Table Projects & Experiments Scientific Method Biochemistry Physical Chemistry Medical Chemistry Famous Chemists Activities for Kids Abbreviations & Acronyms Biology Physics Geology Astronomy Weather & Climate By Todd Johnson Science Expert B.S., Business Management, University of Colorado Boulder Todd Johnson has worked on the development, commercialization, and sales sides of the composites industry since 2004. He also writes about the industry. our editorial process Todd Johnson Updated August 06, 2018 You probably do not realize the impact that the invention of plastic has had in your life. In just 60 short years, plastics' popularity has grown considerably. This is largely due to just a few reasons. They can be easily molded into a wide range of products, and they offer benefits that other materials do not. How Many Types of Plastic Are There? You may think that plastic is just plastic, but there are actually about 45 different families of plastics. In addition, each of these families can be made with hundreds of different variations. By changing different molecular factors of the plastic, they can be made with different properties, including flexibility, transparency, durability, and more. Thermoset or Thermoplastics? Plastics can all be separated into two primary categories: thermoset and thermoplastic. Thermoset plastics are those that when cooled and hardened retain their shape and cannot return to original form. Durability is a benefit meaning that they can be used for tires, auto parts, aircraft parts, and more. Thermoplastics are less hard than the thermosets. They can become soft when heated and can return to their original form. They are easily molded to be formed into fibers, packaging, and films. Polyethylene Most household plastic packaging is made from polyethylene. It comes in almost 1,000 different grades. Some of the most common household items are the plastic film, bottles, sandwich bags, and even types of piping. Polyethylene can also be found in some fabrics and in mylar as well. Polystyrene Polystyrene can form a harder, impact-resistant plastic that is used for cabinets, computer monitors, TVs, utensils, and glasses. If it is heated and the air is added to the mixture, it turns into what is called EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) also known by the Dow Chemical tradename, Styrofoam. This is a lightweight rigid foam that is used for insulation and for packaging. Polytetrafluoroethylene or Teflon This type of plastic was developed by DuPont in 1938. The benefits of it are that it is almost frictionless on the surface and it is a stable, strong, and is a heat-resistant type of plastic. It is most commonly used in products like bearings, film, plumbing tape, cookware, and tubing, as well as waterproof coatings and films. Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC This type of plastic is durable, non-corrosive, as well as affordable. This is why it is used for pipes and plumbing. It does have one downfall, however, and that is the fact that a plasticizer has to be added to make it soft and moldable and this substance may leach out of it over a long period of time, which makes it brittle and subject to breaking. Polyvinylidene Chloride or Saran This plastic is recognized by its ability to conform to the shape of a bowl or other item. It is used mainly for films and wraps that need to be impermeable to food odors. Saran wrap is one of the most popular wraps for storing food. Polyethylene LDPE and HDPE Perhaps the most common type of plastic is polyethylene. This plastic can be separated into two different types, including low-density polyethylene and high-density polyethylene. The differences in them make them ideal for different uses. For example, LDPE is soft and flexible, so it is used in garbage bags, films, wraps, bottles, and disposable gloves. HDPE is a harder plastic and is used mainly in containers, but was first introduced in the hula hoop. As you can tell, the world of plastics is quite large, and getting larger with the recycling of plastics. Learning more about the different types of plastic can enable you to see that this invention has had a strong impact on the world at large. From drinking bottles to sandwich bags to pipes to cookware and more, plastic is a big part of your everyday life, no matter what type of life you lead.