No, plastic is not a mineral. To be considered a mineral, a material must exist in nature. Since plastic is entirely made by humans, it cannot be considered a mineral.
Read on, and we’ll explain.
Why Is Plastic A Mineral (Or Not)?
What Is A Mineral?
To be considered a mineral, a material must meet five qualifications.
If the material fails to meet any one of these, it is not a mineral.
First, the material must exist in nature, without the involvement of humans.
Humans can make it, but only the natural version of the substance is considered.
(A diamond is a good example of a substance that exists in nature that humans also make).
Second, the material must be solid at normal Earth temperatures. This doesn’t mean room temperature, it just means temperatures that you’d observe on Earth that are not artificially influenced by humans.
Hydrogen, for example, is not a solid at normal Earth temperatures. But if you make it really cold and add a lot of pressure that wouldn’t exist on Earth otherwise, it becomes a solid.
Because it takes all this unnatural effort to make hydrogen solid, we don’t call it a solid.
Third, none of the substance can be organic. In general, when we are talking about organic substances in chemistry, we are talking about substances which have carbon to hydrogen bonds.
This isn’t always the case, but in most cases, organic substances are connected somehow to something that lives.
Fourth, the chemical composition and makeup of the substance needs to be consistent throughout the material.
This means that if you were to take a sample from one area, it would need to match the sample taken from another area entirely.
Fifth and finally, the material must have a consistent internal structure. Think orderly. Organized.
Many minerals have a crystalline structure. One shape that repeats over and over again.
What Is Plastic?
Plastic is a general term that is used to refer to many different kinds of malleable substances most often utilized in manufacturing.
The “recipe” for a particular plastic product varies dramatically, depending upon who is manufacturing the plastic product, as well as what the product is intended to be used for.
Plastic is made with many products, which include but are not limited to: cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt, and crude oil. (source)
Extra additives in a plastic are also really common, usually with a purpose like making the product: more stable, flame resistant, lubricated, a different color, less slippery, and more.
Does Plastic Qualify As A Mineral?
No, plastic does not qualify, primarily because plastic does not exist in nature.
While plastic is made up of many materials that do exist in nature (crude oil, cellulose, salt, etc), the combination of these materials in its resulting form does not exist in nature without the involvement of humans.
For the record, plastic does meet other qualifications to be considered a mineral, such as being a solid. There’s an argument that certain types of plastics (especially those many by the same company) are chemically consistent, though plastic will definitely vary in composition depend on where the material was made.
It may still contain organic substances from the base materials (which disqualifies it), though we would never think to consider plastic as “organic” in any way (quite the opposite).
Finally, plastic may or may not have a consistent internal structure.
The way the molecules line up and whether they are bonded to each other depends on the plastic, the method of manufacturing, and other materials/additives added during the process to influence the physical characteristics of the product (such as color).
In the end, plastic comes nowhere near meeting the mineral criteria.
Examples of Minerals
There are geological minerals, and there are nutritional minerals.
While there is some crossover, the qualifications for either are not the same.
Geologically speaking, the following materials are some examples of minerals: salt, iron, diamonds, pyrite, stibnite, bornite, galena, hematite, quartz, and calcite.
Nutritionally speaking, the following materials are some examples of minerals: calcium, copper, fluorite, selenium, and potassium.
As you can see, these mineral examples are much simpler, do not contain anywhere near the number of materials, and can be found in nature.
As noted above, plastic does not meet the requirements to be considered a mineral.
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