There are a myriad of different plastics used in every industry from foodservice to clothing to electronics. While they all may seem the same at a glance, these different types of plastic actually have very different features and uses, and it's important to know the differences between them to make the best choices for your business.
Polypropylene, often abbreviated PP, is a thermoplastic polymer that is originally opaque in color, though it is often dyed using colored pigments. This hard plastic material is the second most common plastic produced around the world due to its excellent chemical and heat resistance. Sometimes manufacturers will add mineral fillers to polypropylene to create a harder plastic, but this mineral-filled polypropylene loses some of its flexibility and comes in a cloudy white color.
Often abbreviated PE, polyethylene is a thermoplastic homo-polymer that has excellent flexibility and impact strength. It is the most produced plastic in the world. While this material has a low melting point, it makes up for this with its lightweight design as well as its crack- and crush-resistant construction.
More commonly known as PET or PETE, polyethylene terephthalate is a thermoplastic polymer resin that is most commonly used as synthetic fiber to create polyester. When made into a plastic it is either rigid or semi-rigid, and in this form it is most often clear or transparent in appearance, though it can be dyed various colors. It is very useful, as it is crack- and crush-resistant while remaining lightweight.
A simple, naturally occurring chemical called styrene is strung together to manufacture polystyrene (PS) plastic. This material provides better insulation than most plastics and usually comes in a clear color, making it ideal for packaging or storing food. It is very rigid and can be prone to cracking, but it is also lightweight and inexpensive, so your replacement costs will be low.
This material, often referred to as PC, is an engineered thermoplastic that is used when durability is your main concern. Clear in its original form, though it is often colored or darkened to be translucent, polycarbonate can be used in applications where glass-like transparency is needed. It is extremely impact- and heat-resistant as well, though it can be scratched or “crazed” fairly easily. Unique to polycarbonate, this plastic also helps protect against UV rays.
EPS, or expanded polystyrene, is formed by taking beads of polystyrene, expanding them with steam, compressing them into a mold, and then steaming it again to form the final foam product. This foam material comes in a variety of densities to best suit its purpose.
PVC plastic’s technical name is polyvinyl chloride, and this thermoplastic polymer is made either rigid or flexible during production. The rigid form of PVC is used in packaging applications, but it should not be used to package food. Resistant to chemicals, water, and impact, this rigid form is a lightweight but durable material. The flexible form is used to make signage or replace rubber to protect or cover an item. Both types of PVC are often used in building or electrical applications.
SAN plastic is actually named styrene acrylonitrile resin and is made of styrene and acrylonitrile, making it an excellent replacement for polystyrene. It boasts excellent thermal and chemical resistance, but is more prone to cracking if dropped. SAN is scratch-resistant as well. Due to its transparency, it is great for use in applications where you need to easily see through the plastic.
Tritan is a tough, break-resistant plastic material that was made to fill the need for BPA-free plastic in the market. It is resistant to impact, cracking, shattering, and bending so you can rely on it to last in your establishment. It is an excellent, lightweight alternative to glassware due to its transparency, but it also has a nice hand-feel to promote a more high-end atmosphere that other plastics can’t offer. However, there is a huge debate as to whether Tritan plastic is safe – George Bittner from the University of Texas began studies suggesting that while Tritan is BPA-free, it contains estrogenic/androgenic activity (EA/AA), which is similar to BPA in its negative effects. But Eastman, the developer of Tritan, has also done studies that suggest Tritan is EA/AA-free and completely safe. Consumers are currently waiting on more conclusive data to decide one way or the other.
Abbreviated as PLA, polylactic acid plastic is a thermoplastic polyester material that is made from renewable resources such as corn starch. The main selling feature of PLA is that it is eco-friendly as it is made from renewable resources and is biodegradable at the end of its life. However, the material cannot yet be produced at a large industrial scale, has a low melting point, and is fairly permeable so it cannot easily be used to store food long-term. When crystallized during manufacturing, this material can handle slightly higher temperatures.
|Cloth, storage containers, shoes, luggage, furniture|
|HDPE||Crates, fencing, bottles, pens|
|PVC||Flooring, cables, mats, bubble wrap|
|Garbage cans, floor tile, paneling|
|PP||Brooms, bins, pallets, trays|
|Insulation, egg cartons, take-out containers|
If you’re running a foodservice establishment, whether that be a bar, restaurant, or food truck, you may wonder why you would want to use plastic at all. Ultimately, there are many advantages and disadvantages to choosing plastic over typical glassware or ceramics, so you have to decide which option is best for your business.