“…Plastics have transformed almost every aspect of life. Without them, much of modern medicine would be impossible and the consumer electronics and computer industries would disappear,” said Norman C. Billingham, author, chemistry professor at the University of Suffex and expert on modern materials. This transformation of modern life that began after World War II is continuing today with the latest development in the world of plastics–corrugated plastic.

Cardboard: It’s Popular Ancestor

For years the only corrugated material common to the consumer was cardboard. More properly called corrugated fiberboard, it was invented in 1856 in England and used mainly to line tall hats. It was not until 1871 that the more common use of corrugated cardboard came into being when Albert Jones filed a patent for a single sided version of cardboard that would be used in shipping. From there developed the ubiquitous cardboard box that continues to be the popular shipping container for Amazon and hundreds of other companies. Yet, for all its versatility, there are some major drawbacks with corrugated cardboard, the most obvious is its susceptibility to moisture and liquid damage. Therefore, when corrugated plastic was developed in the late 20th century, it became popular for its ability to withstand liquid/water damage.

Useful Characteristics

Made from propylene most often, this “wonder” board also has several other characteristics that makes it useful over a wide spectrum of applications. It holds up well against many liquids that are destructive to other materials such as solvents, oils, and corrosive agents. It is impact resistant and does not become brittle in normal temperatures. It is very flexible. Though it naturally resisting staining, it can easily be modified in manufacturing to accept ink and paint. It is stiff and resistant to tearing, but can be easily cut with by utility knives or shears. It is very durable, and while susceptible to UV deterioration, this problem too can be overcome through additives during the manufacturing process.

Popular Common Uses

Due to these and other features, these flexible sheets have proven to be a great material for many common everyday needs. It has become very important as a shipping container for ESD products–electronic products that can be damaged by simple static discharge. Such corrugated box can be produced to package sensitive computer-driven machines because of the ease in adding anti-static features to the plastic during manufacture. This has been an important economic boon to businesses as damages to sensitive equipment through static electricity costs U.S. businesses $5 billion annually. Another important and widespread use is found in the commercial and individual advertising sign industry. These plastic sheets are the perfect weather-resistant material to produce anything from a small yard sign to a billboard. Of late the sheets have become very popular as cage liners for small domestically raised animals like Guinea pigs. It is also an ideal material for building in areas with strong summer storms, as shutters made from these materials are strong, light, protective. Some buildings have even use the clear, translucent version of these plastic sheets for roofing material for sun rooms. Gardeners have even built greenhouses out of the same version. The flexible nature of the material also makes it possible to produce durable hinges. Sportsmen have even built foldable boats and kayaks from the wonder material.

“I just want to say one word to you—just one word …“plastics!” … There’s a great future in plastics,” advised Mr. McGuire, a Los Angeles businessman to Dustin Hoffman’s character, Ben Braddock, in a 1960s movie. Though much time has passed since that fictional counsel, it certainly is true about corrugated plastic today. Surely if Mr. McGuire appeared in a movie in 2016 he was say, “I just want to say to one word to you–just one word…. corrugated plastic!”