A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids that are moldable. Plastics are typically organic polymers of high molecular mass, but they often contain other substances. They are usually synthetic, most commonly derived from petrochemicals, but many are partially natural.
Plastics and natural materials such as rubber or cellulose are composed of very large molecules called polymers. Polymers are constructed from relatively small molecular fragments known as monomers that are joined together.
Wool, cotton, silk, wood and leather are examples of natural polymers that have been known and used since ancient times. This group includes biopolymers such as proteins and carbohydrates that are constituents of all living organisms.
Synthetic polymers, which includes the large group known as plastics like Kevlar, vinyl, nylon, Dacron, polyethylene, polypropylene and synthetic rubber came into prominence in the early twentieth century. Chemists' ability to engineer them to yield a desired set of properties (strength, stiffness, density, heat resistance, electrical conductivity) has greatly expanded the many roles they play in the modern industrial economy.