While the word "polymer" is often used as a synonym for plastic, the truth is that polymers are a large group of natural and synthetic materials, encompassing everything from shellac to PVC. Plastics are simply one form of polymer. Natural polymers include rubber and amber, while the range of synthetic polymers is wide and includes things like nylon, silicone, Bakelite, neoprene and polystyrene.
The first synthetic polymer was Bakelite, created in 1907 by chemist Leo Baekeland [source: American Chemical Society]. Until other plastics were developed, Bakelite was used to produce everything from cable insulation to jewelry. Since then, manufacturers have used polymers in the creation of a variety of products, from adhesives and lubricants to implantable devices like orthopedic plates, artificial joints and heart valves. Polymers can also be used in the production of nonplastic objects, such as silicone and paper. They're a large part of our everyday lives and can be found in hundreds of different products. Read on to learn about 10 common polymer-based items.