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
Collection of #1 PET plastic, accepted effective June 2012

LEGO Tank – Flickr user MaxFragg

PVC Pipe – Pam Broviak
PVC Pipe

IKEA Watering cans – Sonny Abesamis
At Attention

LEGO Figure – Marco Verch
Construction worker

Wetsuit – Clemens Pfeiffer

White PVC Pipes – Teresa Trimm
PVC Light Box

Saran Wrap – Wikimedia user Kakura

STS-120 Shuttle Mission Imagery – NASA

Providing clean water – UK Department for International Development
Providing clean water to millions of people



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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