Plastics, or polymers, are compounds composed of carbon and hydrogen known as hydrocarbons. According to the American Chemistry Council, polymers can have multidimensional networks of repeating units. Each repeating unit is the “-mer” or basic unit, with “polymer” meaning many repeating units.
The chemical properties of plastics depend on the type of polymer used during the manufacturing process. Every polymer has very distinct characteristics but most share a few similar characteristics. For instance, most polymers are very resistant to chemicals contained in solvents such as cleaning fluids. They also function as thermal and electrical insulators, which is why appliances, cords, electrical outlets and wiring contain polymeric materials.
Polymers are also very light in weight and useful in a wide range of applications ranging from toys to the frame structure of space stations. Polymers have flexible structures that can be molded into several shapes and sizes. They can also be mixed with solvents to become adhesives or paints. Although most polymers come from natural gas or crude oil, some are made from renewable materials such as cellulose acetate. Polymers are also used to make the clear, waterproof films for medical tubing and blood bags that extend the shelf life of blood and blood products.