How can you tell if something is made of plastic?

From the feel and the smell, you can easily tell if something is made of plastic. With its distinct smell and a light feel, one could tell plastic apart from other materials. However, when in doubt, there are also more technical ways of identifying whether or not something is made of plastic.

Plastic Vs Glass

Glass is most probably the material closest to plastic in terms of appearance. After all, a lot of plastic products look like they are trying to imitate glass. 

For example, plates, bowls, and cups come in both plastic and glass. The plastic varieties are specifically designed after their glass counterparts. Even so, the weight and feel of both materials are easily distinguished, so it is easy for anyone to know which is which.

Anything made of plastic could be more durable than glass, probably because of glass’ natural brittleness. Comparing the two, glass naturally breaks easier than plastic because it is denser and heavier. 

Plastic also tends to retain the smell and taste of strong liquids, compared to glass which easily washes off residue because of its slippery texture. 

Overall, despite their obvious differences, plastic and glass remain to be the most used materials for everyday stuff, especially household items. To ensure you’re getting what you need, it pays to look into what it’s made of before making a purchase.

It’s a multi-sensory experience.

Checking if that pretty tumbler you’re currently eyeing on is made of plastic is as easy as using your senses. 

  • Take a look at its appearance. Most plastic items have matte texture. They may be translucent or opaque, and are rarely transparent. These items are also more colorful compared to glass. 
  • Sniff away! That common odor we associate with anything plastic is from polymer’s residue, which is also a usual giveaway in knowing what an object is made of. Quite arguably, this smell is mostly noticed on cheap plastic, although high quality ones have been observed to have it, too, albeit on a lighter note.
  • Feel it in your hands. Glass tends to feel colder than plastic in general. Since glass has a higher heat capacity than plastic, comparing how they feel in your hands could be another surefire way to identify one from the other. Apart from temperature, weight is another factor. Glass naturally feels heavier and is denser than plastic.

Scratches and burns

If the above ways still do not convince you if something is made of plastic, there are other ways you can try to come up with more accurate results.

  • Scratch the surface. If it is plastic, the scratch would more likely be deep and could even cause the object to be cut apart. On the other hand, trying to scratch glass is harder and will just result to marks and dents.
  • Burning a portion of the material is not a good idea, but is a surefire way of knowing if it’s made of plastic. There’s a reason why burning plastic is prohibited in many parts of the world. This process releases harmful chemicals deemed to be hazardous to human health. If you burn plastic, it will melt, eventually releasing a foul odor. Meanwhile, burning glass can lead to different results, such as cracks. It only ever melts when left on fire for a very long period of time.

Common questions about plastic

👉 What materials make plastic?

Plastic is made of natural and organic materials including coal, cellulose, and crude oil. Crude oil is one of its main components. It starts from being distilled, then separated into different fractions, before being processed to produce plastic.

👉 How can you tell if something is made of glass or plastic?

Check its smell, weight, and temperature. Plastic is lighter and warmer, while glass has no smell and is heavier.

👉 Why is burning plastic not allowed?

Burning plastic yields harmful chemicals. These chemicals are health hazards affecting our lungs. When inhaled, this could lead to respiratory problems and other related diseases.
Choosing plastic over glass is not always a bad idea. What’s more important is you know exactly what it is, and not mistaking it for something else. 

How can you tell if something is made of glass or plastic?