What’s Polyethylene Plastic?

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Polyethylene plastic comes in low-density and high-density forms. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) was discovered in 1933 and is used for films, packaging, and laboratory equipment. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) was discovered in 1951 and is stronger than LDPE, used for larger items like pipes and automotive accessories. Both can be recycled but lose quality.

Polyethylene plastic is an inexpensive plastic material that is chemically resistant and can be very durable. Polyethylene plastic comes in a low-density form and a high-density form. The low-density form was discovered first, followed a few years later by the high-density form.
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic was born in 1933 when it was discovered by two scientists, Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett. LDPE is made from petroleum. It has less strength and shows more flexibility than high-density polyethylene plastic.

LDPE was discovered by accident during an experiment conducted by Gibson and Fawcett. Once discovered, they began to work the polymeric material, giving it the name of “Polythene”. Used to coat submarine cables, it played a large part in war efforts during that time, improving the performance of submarines. Over the next few years other companies got the license and were able to produce LDPE.

Films or packaging materials such as trash bags or sandwich bags are produced using LDPE. LDPE is used to make dispenser bottles and various laboratory equipment. It is used to make general purpose food containers, trays and containers. Recycling is possible with this particular form of plastic but it loses some of its quality the second time around.

It wasn’t until 1951 that two chemists, Paul Hogan and Robert Banks, discovered high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Since LDPE wasn’t the easiest to work with, they started experimenting. They soon discovered crystalline polypropylene through an experiment with high-octane gasoline.

From there they found a way to produce crystalline polypropylene and HDPE. HDPE is made from petroleum and is considerably stronger than LDPE. HDPE can be welded and is often found in larger plastic items due to its strength and durability. One of the first things HDPE was used for was the hula hoop.

HDPE can be found in folding tables and chairs, storage sheds, snowboard rails and boxes. Thicker plastic pieces such as pipes, automotive accessories and storage containers are manufactured using HDPE. Some HDPE containers can be used to store food and are considered dishwasher safe. HDPE can be recycled but, like LDPE, it also loses some of its quality the second time around.
Polyethylene plastic was discovered accidentally through experiments many years ago. Now it can be found in almost everything we use in modern life. It is one of the most popular plastics in the world.

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