Can you imagine your life without polymers? They are all around us: clothing made from synthetic fibers, styrofoam cups, Fiberglas boats, plastic bags, polymer-based paints, silicone heart valves, Teflon-coated cookware, and much, much more! Did you know that these materials didn't even exist until after World War II? Before then, the construction and manufacturing industry relied on steel, glass, wood, stone, brick, and concrete and the raw materials for clothing and other fabrics were cotton, wool, and jute (burlap).
While polymers have revolutionized several industries, particulary the biomedical field, they are also are the basis of all the plastic in our lives.
I was a Chemistry major in undergrad and in my polymer chemistry class, we learned about the history of polymer chemistry, polymer synthesis and reactions, thermodynamics and kinetics of polymerization, polymer characterization and testing, and polymer uses. On the last day of class, we even made marshmallow guns out of PVC piping and had a marshmallow war.
Unfortunately, the lack of biodegradability and other environmental harm caused by this branch of chemistry was never discussed. The minimial exposure I got was because one of my undergraduate research projects was supposed to be on the leaching of bisphenol-A (BPA) from plastic baby bottles. I say "supposed to be" because I never got to do the project. The instrument I needed (a gas-chromatography mass spectrometer if you care) broke when I needed it and couldn't be repaired in a timely manner, so I had to change projects. That was a couple of years before the media picked up the whole issue.
I'm still researching how the plastics industry, among other things, impacts this wonderful earth we live on. For more information on the environmental impacts of plastic, Beth Terry at Fake Plastic Fish has a wealth of infomation and suggestions for "living life with less plastic". Also, check out the Spring Cleaning Carnival: Get the Plastics Out at Kitchen Stewardship.
There are also several great give-aways you can sign up for this week:
Stainless Steel Airtight Containers by Life Without Plastic at Kitchen Stewardship
Stainless Steel 11oz Infant Bottle by Pura at Fake Plastic Fish