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The chemicals and plastics industries are separate industries, although all plastics are made of chemicals.

The chemical industry is made up of companies that develop and produce chemicals for industrial and other purposes. Chemical industries convert raw materials, including air, metals, minerals, natural gas, and oil, into various industrial and consumer products. There is an overlap with the plastics industry, in that some chemical companies produce plastics and chemicals.

To some extent, chemicals were produced and used almost throughout human history, but the production of chemicals in large quantities, and for a variety of uses, began with the Industrial Revolution.

Approximately eighty percent of the chemical industry's output is made up of polymers and plastics, largely used for packaging, appliances, containers, games, pipe, toys, and transportation.

About thirty percent of the revenue from the chemical industry comes from pharmaceuticals, animal health products, vitamins, and pesticides. Although the volume is smaller than several other sectors of the industry, these products command high prices.

Speciality chemicals include electronic chemicals, industrial gases, adhesives, sealants, coatings, and chemicals used in cleaning. Chemicals are also used in soaps, detergents, and cosmetics.

The chemical industry can be broken down by scale, beginning with the largest volume, into petrochemicals, commodity chemicals, specialty chemicals, and fine chemicals.

The scope of the chemical industry is, at least in part, formed by custom rather than science. We usually consider the petroleum industry to be separate from the chemical industry, although modern petroleum processes bring about chemical changes, and some petroleum products are chemicals by any reasonable definition. We sort petroleum differently because, in the early days of the industry, crude oil was subject only to a distillation treatment. Although many of the metals that we use are formed by chemical processes, we differentiate this industry because some copper, lead, steel, and zinc are produced in largely pure form, then fabricated into useful shapes.

In most fields within the chemical industry, the United States is the largest producer of chemicals, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy.

The plastics industry manufactures polymer materials, which is simply a fancy word for plastics. Although often treated separately, the plastics industry is part of the larger chemical industries. As mineral oil is a major part of plastics, it can also be considered part of the petrochemical industry.

Plastics are used in a large range of applications today. Much of what used to be formed of glass, ceramic, or metal is now made of plastic. Plastics are used in packaging, packing, construction, aerospace, automotive, electronics, transportation, and manufacturing. Despite environmental concerns, its use grows every year.

All plastics are polymers, but not all polymers are plastics. Plastics include a diverse group of synthetic organic polymers forming an important component of a large percentage of manufactured products today. The amount of plastic being produced has increased greatly since mass production of plastic products began in the 1940s.

While there are more plastics in the world every year, it is popular to decry the dangers of plastics on both the environment and health. Further confusing the issue, many of the terms used in the plastics industry are confusing and misleading.

Some plastics are said to be biodegradable. However, there are no widely accepted definitions of the term, and many plastics that are labeled biodegradable actually simply break down into smaller pieces of plastic. In that sense, a more accurate term might be degradable.

Bioplastics describes a range of plastics that include plastics that are made from fossil fuels and those that are biologically based, as well as those that are biodegradable and those that are not biodegradable. The label does not guarantee that the material will biodegrade.

Some plastics are actually compostable, although they are unlikely to compost in a backyard compost pile, as they require much higher heat in order to fully biodegrade. These plastics are also unlikely to compost in a landfill.

Microplastics is a term that applies to plastic particles less than five millimeters in their longest dimension. Microplastics may be primary or secondary. Primary microplastics include resin pellets that are melted down to manufacture plastic products, as well as microbeads that may be added to cosmetics, soaps, and toothpaste as abrasives. Secondary microplastics are the result of larger plastic items that have fragmented, or broken down into smaller particles.

The word "plastic" is derived from the Greek word plastikos, which means that it can be shaped or molded.



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