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Polyethylene (abbreviated PE) or polythene (IUPAC name polyethene or poly(methylene)) is the most common plastic. The annual production is approximately 80 million metric tons.[1] Its primary use is in packaging (plastic bag, plastic films, geomembranes, containers including bottles, etc.). Many kinds of polyethylene are known, with most having the chemical formula (C2H4)nH2. Thus PE is usually a mixture of similar organic compounds that differ in terms of the value of n.

Physical properties

Polyethylene is a thermoplastic polymer consisting of long hydrocarbon chains. Depending on the crystallinity and molecular weight, a melting point and glass transition may or may not be observable. The temperature at which these occur varies strongly with the type of polyethylene. For common commercial grades of medium- and high-density polyethylene the melting point is typically in the range 120 to 130 °C (248 to 266 °F). The melting point for average, commercial, low-density polyethylene is typically 105 to 115 °C (221 to 239 °F).

Chemical properties

Most LDPE, MDPE and HDPE grades have excellent chemical resistance, meaning that it is not attacked by strong acids or strong bases. It is also resistant to gentle oxidants and reducing agents. Polyethylene burns slowly with a blue flame having a yellow tip and gives off an odour of paraffin. The material continues burning on removal of the flame source and produces a drip. Crystalline samples do not dissolve at room temperature. Polyethylene (other than cross-linked polyethylene) usually can be dissolved at elevated temperatures in aromatic hydrocarbons such as toluene or xylene, or in chlorinated solvents such as trichloroethane or trichlorobenzene.

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