What are plastics?

Plastics have been with us for about 150 years and most people consider that the production of billiard balls in USA marks their first use. A competiotion for a substitute for the ivory traditionally used in billiard balls, was won by a Mr. Hyatt. The price money og $10.000 must have helped in establishing the first factory that produced them under the brand name Celluloid.

Most plastics that were inroduced in the late 19th century were what we would consider Thermoset, that is could not be plasticised again by reheating. Bakelite, considered the first real plastic, was for example a Thermoset. Shortly after the first world war, the first theories regarding long chained molicules, so called polymers, began to emerge but it took amost 15 years for these theories to be accepted by scientist in the field of chemistry. In the end the author, a German scientist named Staudinger, received the Nobel Price for his work but not until 1953.

When scientist had realised the potential of these theories a fierce competition began between Germany, USA and the UK in developing new Thermoplastic materials. Amongst those was Polyamide 6,6, better known as Nylon. Polyethelene became known as well as High Density Polyethelene, (HDPE), in 1955. Linear Low Density Polyethelene, (LLDPE), emerged in the seventies and constitutes, along with HDPE, to the third of the total market for plastics.

The Icelandic history of plastics is considered to have started with the company Plastik hf, formed in 1947 by Jón Þórðarson, which later became a part of Reykjalundur. Later paint factories and plastic companies in various fields of production were started. Today every 5 of 1.000 working Icelanders are involved in the plastics industry. Although the output is high in the plastics industry in Iceland it can be said that low unit costs and high automation is the reason that fewer people are employed in the plastics industry than are in the metal industry for example. However the plastics industry in connected to other industries in such a way that it can safely be said that it plays a significant part in creating rewenue for the country as a whole.