Things You Might Not Know Are Made with Plastics

Sports clothing, hockey equipment, gymnastics floors, surfboards, tennis racquets, goggles, bicycles, sneakers, pole vault poles, golf clubs. World-class sports require world-class gear. Amateur or pro, you may be surprised how much you likely rely on a plethora of plastics to do your best.

Regardless your sport, you’re probably wearing plastic fibres.

Next time you’re in a sporting goods store, check out the labels on the shirts, shorts, leggings, and other sports clothing. Nylon, polyester, acrylic, lycra and spandex; all plastic fibres that make up today’s modern stretchy, comfy, sweat wicking fabrics. And swimmers and surfers–can you even find a cotton swimsuit these days? Most of the safety equipment: helmets, visors, shin guards, mouth guards are plastics.

That amazing women’s gymnastics team? They’re flipping over plastics. Know what the “floor” in the floor exercise competition is made with? Typically, the base layer is comprised of springs attached to multiple panels of glass-reinforced plastics (usually called fibreglass). These panels are topped with layers of plastic foam and then carpeting made with plastic fibres. The combination gives the floor a bit of a bounce to help gymnasts gain height while softening the impact of landings.

Score that a 10.

Surfboards made with plastics? Right on… The original heavy wood surfboards have largely been replaced with lightweight plastics–typically a combination of plastic foam/s and composites–to provide improved buoyancy and wave riding action. (Oh, and those wetsuits surfers wear are made with plastics, too.) Plus, there’s a growing number of drop off points for old boards to be recycled, reused, or repurposed.

Play tennis? That racquet’s (typically) made with plastics. “Isn’t it graphite?” you may ask. Yes. Graphite is carbon. Most modern racquets are made with composites, such as plastics combined with carbon fibre, typically called carbon fibre-reinforced plastics. They’re lighter weight, stiffer, and stronger than many of the previous materials used for racquets. Can you even buy a wooden racquet today?

Well, maybe at a garage sale…

Goggles are glass, right? Uh, probably not… Whether you’re riding a motorcycle, skiing, or swimming, it’s probably not the best idea to place breakable glass lenses close to your eyeballs. That’s why most sports safety goggles today are made with tough, shatter-resistant plastics, such as polycarbonate. You can even get prescription lenses, camouflage patterns for hunting, and designs that range from hipster to punk.

It’s just a simple bike, right? Nah… This isn’t your grandfather’s bike. Professional racers use sleek bikes made largely from carbon fibre-reinforced plastics that combine low weight, high strength, durability, and reliability. And performance bikes at sporting goods stores now use this high-tech material for frames, handlebars, stems, seat posts, rims, cranks–even the intricate derailleur that quickly and precisely shifts the gears.

Check out your shoes. When running, kicking, or jumping, most of us are doing that on cushioned plastic soles with durable plastic uppers and laces. Today’s high-tech, tricked out kicks keep getting lighter and lighter. And get this: Nike even uses recycled polyester plastic to make its lightweight Flyknit sneakers, diverting 182 million plastic bottles from landfills so far.

What’s that ultra-bendy pole vault pole made with? Think that pole is made from a long length of bamboo? Not anymore. The 1950s ushered in the era of poles made from composites of plastics and glass fibre… and later carbon fibre. Today’s poles are stronger, lighter, and more flexible than ever, literally helping athletes reach new heights.

Play golf? Your “woods” may be made with plastics. Aren’t those big drivers called “woods”? Yes, because the shafts historically were made from hickory wood. Lightweight reinforced plastics are now becoming prevalent in golf clubs. They can be swung faster, leading to greater club head speed… and maybe even a better chance at that hole-in-one?

Sports clothing, hockey equipment, gymnastics floors, surfboards, tennis racquets, goggles, bicycles, sneakers, pole vault poles, golf clubs… Surprised?

Today’s intelligent plastics are vital to the modern world. These materials enhance our lifestyles, our economy and the environment. For more information, visit www.intelligentplastics.ca.

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