The Chemistry of manufacturing plastics

The fundamental chemistry


Popular Polymers:


Polyethylene (a polyolefin)


(drainpipes, water pipes, sheeting, cable insulation)


Polypropylene (a polyolefin)

(sheeting, boards, pipes, carpets, electrical fittings, cable insulation)



(sheeting, thermal insulation (foamed), electrical insulation, light fittings)



(thermal insulation (foamed), adhesives, clear finishes, paint, sealants)


Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

(sheeting, boards, sections, window frames, pipes, flooring, wallpapers)


Some more common plastics and their associated emissions

Polymer Emission(s) Common use
Polyester Styrene, Dichloromethane Fabrics
Epoxy Phenol, Epichlorohydrin Epoxide resins: filler, adhesives, paint, clear finishes, etc.
Polymethylmethacrylate Acetonitrile, Acrylonitrile Rooflights, boards, flooring, baths, paint
Ureaformaldehyde Formaldehyde Thermal insulation, electical fittings, laminates, wood adhesives
Melamineformaldehyde Phenol, Formaldehyde Laminates, electrical fittings, adhesives
Polysulphide Toluene, Chloroparaffin Sealants
Silicone Xylene Sealants, electrical insulation
Styrene rubber Styrene, Xylene, Butadiene, Hexane, Toluene Flooring, sealing strips
Isoprene rubber Xylene, Nitrosamines Natural rubber substitute
Ethylene propylene rubber Benzene, Hexane, Nitrosamines Sealing strips
Chlorprene rubber Chloroprene, Nitrosamines Sealing strips


Further information

• The Environmental Toll of Plastics, and article in Environmental Health News by Jessica A. Knoblauch, 2009,