Plastic vs Synthetic – Difference Between Plastic and Synthetic

Plastic is a non-biodegradable material and it’s quite harmful to the environment. Even still plastic is used in the packaging of almost every product on earth.

Plastic is also what we call, a synthetic material, which means that it is man-made by making certain substances react with each other to form a new material.

Plastic vs Synthetic

The main difference between plastic and synthetic is that plastic is a type of synthetic material that is very versatile and can be molded into shape. On the other hand, synthetic is the type of material that is obtained by the forced reaction of substances which is done by humans.

Plastic and Synthetic

Plastic is a strong, malleable, durable, and non-biodegradable material that is made from refining materials like natural gas, oil, or plants in ethane and propane.

These are further treated with heat. This process is called cracking which gives birth to various types of polymers and plastic being one of them. 

All materials like ceramics, polymer, nylon, rayon, vinyl, plastic, etc are synthetic materials. What this means is that these materials do not exist independently on earth, neither do they undergo natural reactions to form.

Instead, these are created by humans artificially by mixing naturally occurring substances under heat and pressure.

Comparison Table Between Plastic and Synthetic

Parameters of ComparisonPlasticSynthetic
DefinitionPlastic is a type of synthetic material made from synthetic polymersSynthetic refers to the type of material that gives birth to other synthetic materials
NatureMade from synthetic polymer onlyCan be made with natural polymers as well
StructureIts made of long polymer chainsBoth short and long polymer  chains can be found
VersatilityVery versatile and malleable but isn’t hardDepending on the type of synthetic material, versatility varies
ElasticityNot elastic at allElasticity can be controlled

What is Plastic?

Items made from plastic can be found all around us. Bottles, packets, wrappers are all made from plastic. The reason plastic is so extensively used is because of its versatility.

Plastic is a polymeric material that can be shaped and molded with the help of a combination of heat and pressure.

Plastic is a tough material. It doesn’t mean it’s hard, but rather durable, despite it having low density, transparency, and being lightweight.

Furthermore the composition of plastic can be altered to form various other derived materials such as polyethylene terephthalate which is what is used to make plastic bottles.

However, plastic is also non-biodegradable. This means that it is incapable of decomposing on its own buried in soil and earth. This means even after several hundred years, plastic will remain intact on this earth. 

The 7 common types of plastics and some examples:

  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE): Bottles, jars, polyester rope
  • High-density Polyethylene (HDPE): Toys, milk cartons, buckets
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or Vinyl): Oxygen masks, credit cards, plumbing pipes
  • Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE): Bubble wrap, cups, wrappers
  • Polypropylene (PP): Disposable diapers, straws, containers for hot food
  • Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam): Cutlery, shipping and product packaging, egg cartons
  • Other: this refers to any other plastic.

What is Synthetic?

Synthetic materials are not natural materials that are found independently. Synthetic materials can be defined as man-made materials that are created by purposely mixing various substances together and creating new materials.

These new materials obtained are called synthetic materials.

Materials like composites, plastic, ceramics, polymers, artificial foods, and of course, synthetic fibers are all examples of synthetic materials. All of these materials are made with their uniques desirable properties in mind to achieve a certain state.

While some synthetic materials are hard like artificial foods, synthetic fibers are more flexible. This allows them to be used in clothes and other flexible objects.

Some synthetic fabrics/fibers:

  • Spandex: Also called Lycra or elastane which is a polyester-polyurethane co-polymer. It is used in making elastic clothing like sportswear, swimwear, etc.
  • Nylon: It is made of polyamide and is lightweight, stretchable, and easy to wash. This makes it suitable for underwear, sportswear, and swimwear.
  • Acetate: It is derived from cellulose and it is used to make special occasion garments due to its luxurious appearance, resistance to shrinkage, and wrinkling.
  • Any type of material with unique properties that are not available naturally, and are obtained by mixing substances, is a synthetic material, including plastic.

Main Differences Between Plastic and Synthetic

  1. Plastic cannot be used in clothes because it is not flexible enough to be integrated within them. For this, other synthetic materials such as acrylic fibers, microfibers, polyester, etc are used which are known as synthetic fabrics. 
  2. Plastic isn’t stretchable like synthetic fibers that are made into materials like spandex. This keeps the uses of plastic to a limited field, unlike other synthetic materials that have no such boundary.
  3. Plastic can only ever be made from synthetic polymers. However, different synthetic materials may or may not contain natural polymers as well, such as polyethylene, polyester, nylon, Teflon, etc.
  4. The strength of plastic lies within a given range beyond which it will break. A different synthetic material, however, can be altered to be stronger or weaker, as required.
  5. All plastic products are synthetic materials but all synthetic materials are not plastic. Also, the number of types of synthetic materials far exceeds the number of types of plastic.
Difference Between Plastic and Synthetic 1

Conclusion

Synthetic materials have now become a huge part of living. A world with zero synthetic material is impossible to maintain at this point.

However, the damage that these cause can be at least controlled to a certain point. To prevent plastic from ruining the ecosystem, practices like recycling are extremely important.

Furthermore, plastic can be harmful to human health as well. Microplastics can often be found to be ingested. Since they are non-biodegradable, they get excreted normally.

However, even though plastic itself doesn’t harm us, the toxic chemical found within it may cause serious problems if they manage to get into the blood. 

With all the upsides of synthetic materials, there are also some downsides and these are needed to be controlled.

References

  1. https://www.science.org/doi/full/10.1126/science.1094559
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128098806000333
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