What is thermoplastic? Types of thermoplastic

Wondering what thermoplastic is and what types are available? Look no further! In this article, we’ll dive into the world of thermoplastics, explaining what they are and exploring the various types you need to know about.

Thermoplastic is a versatile material that can be melted and reshaped multiple times without undergoing any significant chemical change. Unlike thermosetting plastics, which harden irreversibly upon curing, thermoplastics retain their ability to be melted and reformed. This characteristic makes them highly recyclable and suitable for a wide range of applications.

What is thermoplastic

Image by runsom

Properties of thermoplastic

Thermoplastics possess several unique properties that set them apart from other materials. One key characteristic is their ability to be softened and molded when exposed to heat, and then hardened and cooled. This process can be repeated multiple times without causing any significant degradation to the material. Additionally, thermoplastics exhibit excellent chemical resistance, electrical insulation properties, and mechanical strength.

Another notable property of thermoplastics is their wide range of melting points. Some thermoplastics have low melting points, making them easy to process, while others have high melting points, providing enhanced heat resistance. The ability to tailor the melting point of thermoplastics makes them suitable for diverse applications, from packaging materials to automotive components.

Thermoplastics also offer exceptional design flexibility. Their ability to be molded into complex shapes and intricate details allows for the creation of custom-made products. Moreover, thermoplastics can be easily colored and modified with additives to achieve desired properties such as flame retardancy, UV resistance, or antimicrobial properties.

In summary, thermoplastics possess the following properties:

  • Meltable and reshapeable without significant degradation
  • Excellent chemical resistance, electrical insulation, and mechanical strength
  • Wide range of melting points for varied applications
  • Design flexibility for complex shapes and customization
  • Ability to incorporate additives for desired properties

Types of thermoplastic

Now that we understand the general properties of thermoplastics, let’s explore some of the most commonly used types:

Polyethylene (PE)

Polyethylene is a widely used thermoplastic known for its excellent toughness, low cost, and good chemical resistance. It is available in various forms, including high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE). HDPE offers high strength and rigidity, making it ideal for applications such as pipes, bottles, and containers. LDPE, on the other hand, is more flexible and is commonly used for packaging films and coatings.

Polypropylene (PP)

Polypropylene is a versatile thermoplastic with a wide range of applications. It is lightweight, resistant to moisture, and has good resistance to chemicals and high temperatures. These properties make it suitable for use in automotive parts, appliances, packaging, and textiles. Polypropylene is also known for its high tensile strength and excellent impact resistance.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Polyvinyl Chloride, commonly known as PVC, is a thermoplastic that is highly versatile and cost-effective. It exhibits excellent flame resistance, durability, and chemical resistance. PVC is commonly used in construction applications for pipes, profiles, and fittings. It is also used in the manufacturing of electrical cables, flooring, and medical devices.

Polystyrene (PS)

Polystyrene is a lightweight and rigid thermoplastic that offers good impact resistance and insulation properties. It is commonly used in packaging, disposable food containers, insulation boards, and consumer electronics. Polystyrene can be easily molded into various shapes and is available in both solid and foam forms.

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

Polyethylene Terephthalate, commonly known as PET, is a strong and transparent thermoplastic. It is widely used in the production of beverage bottles, food packaging, and textile fibers. PET offers excellent moisture barrier properties and is highly recyclable, making it a popular choice for sustainable packaging solutions.

Common applications of thermoplastic

Thermoplastics find applications in a wide range of industries due to their versatile properties. Some common applications include:

Packaging: Thermoplastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene are widely used in the packaging industry for bottles, containers, films, and bags. Their excellent barrier properties and versatility make them suitable for both food and non-food packaging.

Automotive: Thermoplastics play a crucial role in the automotive industry, where they are used for interior and exterior parts, including dashboards, door panels, bumpers, and fuel tanks. Their lightweight nature, durability, and resistance to chemicals and impact make them ideal for automotive applications.

Construction: PVC and other thermoplastics are commonly used in the construction industry for pipes, profiles, windows, doors, and roofing membranes. Their resistance to weathering, fire, and chemicals make them well-suited for building applications.

Electronics: Thermoplastics are extensively used in the electronics industry for the production of casings, connectors, insulators, and circuit boards. Their electrical insulation properties, thermal stability, and flame resistance make them reliable choices for electronic components.

These are just a few examples of the many applications of thermoplastics. From healthcare to aerospace, thermoplastics find their place in numerous industries due to their versatility and desirable properties.

Advantages of Thermoplastic

The use of thermoplastics offers several advantages over other materials:

Versatility: Thermoplastics can be molded into various shapes and sizes, allowing for design flexibility and customization. They can also be easily colored and modified with additives to achieve specific properties.

Recyclability: Unlike thermosetting plastics, thermoplastics can be melted and reshaped multiple times without any significant degradation. This characteristic makes them highly recyclable and contributes to sustainability efforts.

Cost-effective: Thermoplastics are generally more cost-effective than other materials such as metal or glass. They require less energy and resources during production and can be processed using efficient manufacturing techniques.

Chemical resistance: Many thermoplastics exhibit excellent chemical resistance, making them suitable for applications where exposure to chemicals is a concern. This property ensures the longevity and durability of products made from thermoplastics.

Lightweight: Thermoplastics are lightweight materials, which is advantageous in industries such as automotive and aerospace, where weight reduction is a priority. The use of thermoplastics can contribute to fuel efficiency and improved performance.

Disadvantages of Thermoplastic

While thermoplastics offer numerous advantages, there are also some disadvantages to consider:

Temperature limitations: Certain thermoplastics have temperature limitations and may not be suitable for high-temperature applications. Prolonged exposure to heat can cause deformation or degradation of the material.

UV sensitivity: Some thermoplastics, such as PVC, can be sensitive to UV radiation, which can lead to discoloration, embrittlement, or degradation over time. UV stabilizers or protective coatings may be required in applications exposed to sunlight.

Flammability: Depending on the type of thermoplastic, flammability can be a concern. Special additives or flame retardant treatments may be necessary to meet fire safety regulations.

Mechanical strength: While thermoplastics offer good mechanical strength, they may not be as strong as certain metals or other materials. In high-load or high-stress applications, additional reinforcement or design considerations may be required.

It is important to consider these disadvantages and evaluate the suitability of thermoplastics for specific applications. Proper material selection and design considerations can help mitigate these limitations.

Recycling and sustainability of thermoplastic

One of the significant advantages of thermoplastics is their recyclability. Unlike thermosetting plastics, which undergo irreversible chemical changes upon curing, thermoplastics can be melted and reshaped multiple times without any significant loss in properties. This characteristic makes them highly suitable for recycling processes.

Recycling thermoplastics involves collecting used plastic products, sorting them based on their resin type, cleaning them, and then processing them into new products. The recycling process reduces the demand for virgin plastic materials, conserves resources, and minimizes waste generation.

Several recycling methods are employed for thermoplastics, including mechanical recycling, where the plastic is ground into small pellets and then melted for further processing; chemical recycling, where the plastic is broken down into its chemical components for reuse or conversion into other materials; and energy recovery, where the plastic is burned to generate heat or electricity.

To promote sustainability, it is essential to separate thermoplastics from other waste streams and participate in recycling programs. By supporting recycling initiatives and using recycled thermoplastic materials, we can reduce our environmental impact and contribute to a circular economy.

How to choose the right thermoplastic for your project

Selecting the right thermoplastic for a specific project requires careful consideration of various factors. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

Application requirements: Determine the specific requirements of your project, such as mechanical strength, chemical resistance, temperature resistance, and electrical properties. Identify the properties that are critical for your application.

Material properties: Evaluate the properties of different thermoplastics and match them to your application requirements. Consider factors such as melting point, density, flexibility, impact resistance, and transparency.

Cost considerations: Consider the cost-effectiveness of different thermoplastics for your project. Assess factors such as material cost, processing cost, and long-term durability that may impact the overall project budget.

Availability and sourcing: Ensure that the chosen thermoplastic is readily available from reliable suppliers. Consider factors such as lead times, minimum order quantities, and geographical availability.

Regulatory compliance: Check if the selected thermoplastic meets any specific regulatory or industry standards that may be applicable to your project. This could include standards related to food contact, electrical safety, or environmental considerations.

Sustainability: Consider the environmental impact of the thermoplastic. Look for options that are recyclable or made from recycled materials to support sustainable practices.

Consulting with material suppliers, engineers, or industry experts can provide valuable guidance in selecting the right thermoplastic for your project. Conducting thorough research and testing prototypes can also help ensure the suitability of the chosen material.

Safety considerations when working with thermoplastic

While working with thermoplastics, it is essential to follow safety guidelines to protect yourself and others. Here are some safety considerations to keep in mind:

Ventilation: Ensure proper ventilation in the work area to prevent the accumulation of harmful fumes released during the processing of thermoplastics. Use extraction systems or work in well-ventilated areas.

Personal protective equipment (PPE): Wear appropriate PPE, including gloves, safety glasses, and respiratory protection, to protect against potential hazards. The type of PPE required may vary based on the specific thermoplastic being used and the processing method.

Equipment safety: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when operating machinery or equipment used for processing thermoplastics. Ensure that all safety features are functional and that operators are properly trained.

Fire safety: Take precautions to prevent fires when working with thermoplastics. Keep fire extinguishers nearby, avoid open flames or sparks, and ensure that the work area is free from flammable materials.

Material handling: Use proper lifting techniques and equipment when handling large or heavy thermoplastic materials to prevent injuries. Store materials in a safe and organized manner to minimize the risk of accidents or damage.

Waste disposal: Dispose of thermoplastic waste properly, following local regulations and guidelines. Separate waste materials for recycling when possible.

By following safety practices and being aware of potential hazards, you can ensure a safe working environment when using thermoplastics.


Thermoplastics offer a wide range of benefits and applications, making them essential materials in various industries. Their ability to be melted and reshaped multiple times, excellent chemical resistance, design flexibility, and recyclability make them highly versatile and sustainable options.

Understanding the different types of thermoplastics, their properties, and their applications is crucial for making informed material selection decisions. By considering factors such as application requirements, cost, availability, and sustainability, you can choose the right thermoplastic for your project.

Remember to prioritize safety when working with thermoplastics and follow proper guidelines to protect yourself and others. By harnessing the power of thermoplastics and implementing best practices, you can create innovative and sustainable solutions in today’s ever-evolving world.