Chemistry KS4/GCSE: How are plastics made?

Fran Scott visits a company that makes PVC to find out how you turn raw materials into plastic goods.

She explains how crude oil is processed using fractional distillation, and uses a model to explain the molecular structure of alkanes, alkenes and polymers.

At the plant, she finds out about all the additives that give different types of PVC their distinctive qualities.

She sees the powder compound mixed, melted and formed into pellets for shipping.

Teacher Notes

Following on from lessons on fractional distillation and cracking, use this clip to recap these two processes and to introduce polymerisation.

Students could be encouraged to evaluate the marshmallow model used to explain cracking and polymerisation.

Provide students with a list of questions to answer when watching the clip to draw out key points relating to your intended lesson outcomes.

Students could be asked to summarise the entire process from crude oil formation to plastics in a flow chart.

This could be very detailed, depending on the students.

Curriculum Notes

These clips will be relevant for teaching Science and Chemistry at KS4 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and National 4/5 in Scotland.

The topics discussed will support OCR, Edexcel, AQA, WJEC GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 4/5 and Higher in Scotland.

More from Real World Chemistry

How is glass made?
How is paint made?
How is iron extracted?
How is steel made?