Polythene, polyvinylchloride (PVC) and PET bottles, 1950-1980.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Polythene (also known as polyethene or polyethylene) was discovered in 1933 by Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett at ICI's research laboratory at Winnington, Durham, as the result of a laboratory accident. The first patents for polythene were registered in 1936, and a year later the first practical use for the material, as a film, was discovered. Since World War II it has been used for manufacturing a wide range of products. PVC is a polymer of vinyl chloride (chloroethane). It forms a rigid white solid mouldable plastic, but can be made in a flexible form if a plasticiser is added to it. PVC is tough, nonflammable, resistant to moisture, and a good electrical insulator. Uses include pipes, electrical insulators, and clothing, as well as bottles.