Plastic power

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2008, 12:00am

About Plastic

Homonyms sound the same but have different meanings. Choose the correct word.

Plastics are organic compounds that contain the element carbon.

Because carbon atoms join together in long chains, scientists call plastics polymers - a word from the Greek poly meaning 'many' and meros meaning 'part'.

By rearranging polymer molecules, scientists can create plastics with different properties. Plastics can bee/be soft, hard, shiny, dull, resistant to heat, and sew/so on.

Look around you and sea/see how many different types of plastic you can find/fined.

Natural Product

Find synonyms for:

made softer, shine, juice

Before the invention of modern plastic, people used natural products such as animal horns, shellac and gutta-percha.

Animal horn was very popular because it is very easy to find. Craftsmen softened the horn by boiling it in a pan of water.

Craftsmen in Indochina discovered that female scale insects called Kerria lacca make a natural plastic that helps them stick to the trees they live in. Shellac was used to create objects like jewellery and picture frames and also to make furniture polish.

Southeast Asia's other popular natural plastic was the sap from gutta-percha trees. Percha rubber was used to make all sorts of things including cables, jewellery and golf balls.

fab fact!

Scientists are now working on making self-healing plastic that will be able to repair cracks and tears on its own surface.

Fake Ivory

Choose the correct alternative:

The first synthetic plastics were designed to look like ivory - but to be a lot cheaper!

The first synthetic ivory was made at/in 1856 by British inventor Alexander Parkes. Pyroxlin or Parkesine was made from cellulose treated with nitric acid.

Parkes won a bronze medal on/at the 1862 London World Fair but he kept working by/on his invention.

fab fact!

Plastic bags on land look terrible and can kill birds, cats and other animals. Plastic bags in rivers and oceans kill fish, dolphins, ducks, frogs and other creatures. Be responsible and place all plastic rubbish in the recycle bin!

He improved his product and rebranded it as Xylonite in 1869. A year later, he made more improvements and changed the name by/to Celluloid.

Celluloid was used to make buttons, photographic film, combs and dozens of other products. But, as it is flammable, other plastics are now more popular.

Nylon: The Miracle Find

Fill in the blanks:

mass-produce, sponsored, fibre, investment

In 1928 a team of scientists _________ by a company called DuPont began developing different types of plastic.

In 1930 they created a polymer that could be spun into a soft shiny ____ that looked like silk. Better still, the new plastic was very tough.

At first the team could only make small amounts of this new material. But by 1938 they were able to ________ it. The new nylon was an instant hit.

Today nylon is used in dozens of products, from stockings and shirts to hairbrushes and conveyor belts.

It took a lot of effort and _______, but DuPont is now one of the world's biggest chemical companies.

fab fact!

Want to know how plastic is recycled in Hong Kong? Visit the Environmental Protection Department at Afterwards, click on Waste Reduction Programme to learn how you can help.


Answer the following questions. To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1. Shellac is made by:

a. tree sap

b. female scale insects

c. boiling animal horn

2. Percha rubber is made from:

a. tree sap

b. female scale insects

c. boiling animal horn

3. Early names for celluloid included:

a. Xylonite and nylon

b. Parkesine and nylon

c. Xylonite and parkesine

4. Nylon was invented in:

a. 1856

b. 1930

c. 1958

5. The first plastics looked like:

a. crystal

b. stone

c. ivory


Homonyms: be, so, see, find

Correct alternative: in, at, on, to

Fill in the blanks: sponsored, fibre, mass-produce, investment

Find synonyms: softened, polish, sap

Quiz: 1. b, 2. a, 3. c, 4. b, 5. c




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