Are Plastics Too Strong?

The same chemistry that makes plastic tough, light and flexible also makes it nearly impossible to get rid of, because it’s hard to break those resilient chemical bonds.
Thanks to the University of Minnesota for sponsoring this video!
Thanks also to our Patreon patrons and our YouTube sponsors.
To learn more, start your googling with these keywords:
Polymer: A substance whose molecular structure consists of large numbers of similar units covalently bonded together
Covalent bond: A strong type of bond in which adjacent atoms share electrons.
Backbone chain: A long series of covalently bonded atoms that create the continuous chain of the molecule.
Bioplastic: A type of plastic, usually biodegradable, made from biological substances.
Scission: The breakage of a backbone chain at the bond level.
Microbial biodegradation: The use of microbes to break molecules into smaller and less harmful forms.
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Credits (and Twitter handles):
Script Writer: David Goldenberg (@dgoldenberg)
Script Editor: Kate Yoshida (@KateYoshida)
Video Illustrator: Arcadi Garcia
Video Director: Emily Elert (@eelert)
Video Narrator: Emily Elert (@eelert)
With Contributions From: Henry Reich, Alex Reich, Ever Salazar, Peter Reich
Music by: Nathaniel Schroeder:
Image Credits:
Disposable plastic cup - Wikimedia user Lionel Allorge
Sandbox and Beach Toys - The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
PET plastic - Montgomery County Division of Solid Waste Services
LEGO Tank - Flickr user MaxFragg
PVC Pipe - Pam Broviak
IKEA Watering cans - Sonny Abesamis
LEGO Figure - Marco Verch
Wetsuit - Clemens Pfeiffer'Neill.jpg
White PVC Pipes - Teresa Trimm
STS-120 Shuttle Mission Imagery - NASA
Providing clean water - UK Department for International Development
Albertsson, A. and Hakkarainen, M. (2017). Designed To Degrade. Science. 358 (6365). 872-873. Retrieved from:
De Hoe, G., Zumstein, M., Tiegs, B., Brutman, J., McNeill, K., Sander, M., Coates, G., and Hillmyer, M. (2018). Sustainable Polyester Elastomers from Lactones: Synthesis,Properties, and Enzymatic Hydrolyzability. Journal of the American Chemical Society. 140: 963-973. Retrieved from:
Tokiwa, Y., Calabia, B., Ugwu, C., and Aiba, S. (2009). Biodegradability of Plastics. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 10: 3722-3742. Retrieved from:
Rydz, J., ,Sikorska, W., Kyulavska, M., and Christova, D. (2015). International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 16: 564-596. Retrieved from:
Hillmyer, M. (2017). The Promise of Plastics from Plants. Science. 358 (6365). 868-870. Retrieved from:
Hillmyer, M. (2017). Department of Chemistry, University of Minnesota. Personal Communication.

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Category: Technology
Caption: Hi this is emily from minitor plastic is . incredibly strong and can be molded into . a mind-boggling array of stuff but that . strength also makes plastic stick around . long after we actually need it because . unlike most materials it simply doesn't . ever fully break down each type of . plastic is made of one chemical unit . such as ethylene repeated thousands of . times over in long noodle-like strands . which is by plastics names all start . with poly the greek word for many . quadrillions of these strands get . tangled together like cooked pasta to . form everything from saran wrap to . space-shuttle sheathing over time forces . like heat and tension can separate the . tangled strands of plastic from each . other causing big pieces of plastic to . break into smaller ones but the . individual strands themselves are glued. together by thousands of carbon-carbon. bonds which are among the strongest . types of chemical linkages neither. normal amounts of heat and pressure nor . the other usual destructive forces can . break them so while large bits of . plastic break into small bits those . small bits never really disappear so . scientists are noodling around for a way . to create less permanent plastics new . versions such as poly laughs died are . still made up of repeating chemical . units but instead is those everlasting . carbon-carbon bonds the chains are held . together by different types of links . like carbon oxygen bonds which can be . easily cut even by water and the . resulting bits can ultimately be . digested by bacteria so after a few . dozen years out in the world or just a . few months in the right processing . facility these new plastics can degrade . completely into just carbon dioxide and . water but so far there are some . drawbacks poly life diet for example is . more expensive than traditional plastics . and the carbon oxygen bonds that make it . degradable also give it a fairly low . softening point making it not so . practical for some uses so we still . haven't cooked up the perfect plastic . yet but scientists are excited about the . pastabilities . this video was sponsored by the . university of minnesota where students . faculty and staff across all fields of . study are working to solve the grand . challenges facing society one of those . challenges is to ensure that we have . clean water and sustainable ecosystems . and part of the solution is to develop . technologies that are better for the . planet in the department of chemistry . professor mark hill meyer and the . researchers in his group like graduate . student gilliam de haut are creating . biodegradable plastics made from. renewable resources and they're working . with the university's centre for . sustainable polymers to advance . promising new plastic candidates toward . commercialization thanks university of . minnesota. [music]. .

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