History and Future of Plastics What Are Plastics and Where Do They Come From? Plastic is a word that originally meant “pliable and easily shaped.” It only recently became a name for a category of materials called polymers. The word polymer means “of many parts,” and polymers are made of long chains of molecules. Polymers abound in nature.
Plastic is an incredibly versatile material, made to be strong and durable. Unfortunately, most plastics are made to be used once before being discarded. They’re convenient for a few minutes, but often end up in landfills, by the sides of roads, as litter in parks and floating in our oceans for hundreds of years before breaking down into.