Durable, versatile, efficient, innovative: Why plastics are so important

We’re clothed, protected and transported by these complex polymer chains

Monomers. Polymers. Resins. Polyethylenes.

They’re all part of the plastics universe—and they generally start with the humble carbon atom.

Plastics are a key component of cutting-edge technologies that have powered the space program, created the bulletproof vest, and evolved prosthetic limbs.

These carbon building blocks are generally derived from crude oil or natural gas, and the plastics they produce have revolutionized the manufacture of durable goods over the past several decades.


  • It’s durable, resistant to corrosion, lightweight and resilient;
  • It can be fabricated easily, and it’s extremely versatile;
  • It has great protective and preservation value;
  • It has thermal, electric and acoustic insulation value, reducing costs through greater efficiency;
  • Its characteristics significantly reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas generation, both in production and in use.

Reducing consumer footprint

The vast majority of plastics are called thermoplastics—created by the connection of carbon and hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, chlorine or sulfur atoms that creates long polymer chains.

Plastics are helping reduce the environmental footprint of consumer goods. For example:

Recycling and energy recovery

What are those arrow-surrounded numbers on the bottom of the plastic containers in your fridge? Those are resin identification codes—and they not only note the type of plastic used to create them, but also help consumers find out how they can be recycled.

More plastic is recycled every year. And we’re discovering new methods of “energy recovery”—transforming non-recycled plastics into feedstock and fuels for new manufacturing.

Consider this:

  • In 2014, 3 million pounds of bottles, 1.3 billion pounds of other rigid plastics, and 1.2 billion pounds of flexible wrap, or “film,” were recycled in the U.S.
  • Recycling just two types of plastics can save enough energy each year to power 750,000 homes;
  • About 27% of all generated plastics were diverted from landfills in 2013, a number that’s steadily growing every year.

Test your energy IQ: which of these products are made from petroleum?

Oil and natural gas provide us with much more than fuel.

Will clean energy manufacturing revolutionize the energy industry?
Clean energy and advanced manufacturing have the potential to lower emissions and increase renewable energy efficiency.

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