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What Is Polythene Sheeting and Where Is It Used?

Polythene itself was discovered by accident in 1933 by two scientists Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson. To this day it remains the world's most popular plastic due to its versatility. From providing damp course membranes for houses, to carrier bags for supermarkets, the possibilities of polythene are endless. As of 2017, over 100 million tonnes of polyethylene resins are being produced annually, accounting for 34% of the total plastics market.

In this article we will discuss:

What is Polythene Sheeting?

Polythene sheeting is a waterproof plastic film manufactured from petroleum (you may also see it referred to as ‘Polyethylene’). Polythene is a shortened version of its correct chemical name.

It’s generally supplied in rolls, which make it easier to transport and store, and has a wide range of applications offering a protective barrier. If you can reuse it depends on its durability and strength, but most polythene products are recyclable at the end of life.

What is Polythene Sheeting made of?

Polythene is made using thermoplastic polymers which have a variable crystalline structure. It can be low-density (LDPE), medium-density (MDPE) or high-density (HDPE) depending on the temperature and pressure levels it is extruded. Ethylene is a stable molecule that polymerizes only upon contact with catalysts.

Most polythene is thermoplastic meaning it can become pliable when heated. It can be modified to become ‘thermoset’ meaning it is not affected by high temperatures and high pressure, making it useful for applications such as pipework systems and insulation.

Polythene sheeting can be made using either virgin grade polythene, or recycled polythene.

What are popular uses for polythene sheeting?

Polythene sheeting has many applications. Common uses you might be familiar with include:

  • Floor protection during building work and/or decorating
  • Temporary protective sheeting (TPS)
  • Damp proof membrane (DPM) for construction
  • Vapour barriers

Additives can be added to polythene to alter its variables so that it can be used for different purposes. These additives can change polythene’s colour, or determine whether or not it is UV inhibited (UVI), anti-static, flame-retardant, breathable or waterproof. In addition, they can make it either low-slip or high-slip.

Polythene Thickness and Gauges

Polythene can vary in thickness and density depending on what you’re using it for; different applications benefit from light-duty polythene (thin, typically up to 50 microns), whilst others from heavy-duty (thick, robust - typically 100+ microns).

Damp proof membranes for example (also sometimes called “builders polythene”) is a super-heavy duty polythene typically in the region of 1000 microns.

Most polythene thickness is measured in microns (um) although it can be found measured in gauge or millimetres (mm). A general rule of thumb is, the larger the micron/gauge/millimetre, the thicker the polythene. You can work out the micron by dividing the gauge by 4, and the millimetres by dividing the micron value by 1000.

Polythene Colours and Opacity

Most commonly you’ll find polythene uses are limited to a handful of colours that are opaque (most commonly black) or transparent however it can be produced to be any colour for industries that require this. For example, clinical biohazard waste bags come in red, blue, yellow and orange to indicate different types of clinical waste.

Eco-friendly Polythene Sheeting

Using eco-friendly and polythene sheeting in the same sentence sounds like an oxymoron. How can plastic possibly be sustainable? On the contrary, if you choose the right polythene product, it can be an environmentally sound choice.

  • Polythene is 100% recyclable;Its ability to be easily transported and stored means it decreases the air miles associated with the transportation of raw materials overseas.
  • It can also be manufactured in a way which makes it compostable with the introduction of additives into the manufacturing process. It breaks down, leaving no toxins and eventually becoming indistinguishable. Compostable polythene is commonly used for food waste bags and other food packaging applications.
  • It can also be made as a biodegradable polythene with the introduction of additives into the manufacturing process. These then decompose in the presence of air or sunlight. These can’t be recycled with other plastics, so if they’re not separated and thrown into landfill, they will not decompose.
  • Polythene products (think about carrier bags, water bottles, dust covers) can be reused significantly more times and have longer lifespans than other products such as paper grocery bags if handled properly
  • They are easily stored, taking up less space

Here at Industrial Polythene, we recognise the importance of producing more sustainable polythene products to our clients to both meet their needs and be accountable to ensuring the future health of our planet. That is why we’re committed to offer better solutions to our clients to meet their sustainability goals. All our polythene products can be created using eco-friendly, reduced carbon or carbon neutral materials, such as sugarcane. This in turn can be used to make a range of products including:

We are also proud ambassadors of the Builders Merchant Federation (BMF) and helping the construction industry work towards targets set out by the Construction Industry’s Construct Zero to help the construction be net zero by 2050.

Do you need polythene sheeting for your project?

If you need help deciding what polythene sheeting you might need for your project and how our products can benefit you, get in touch with our friendly team at Industrial Polythene either through our email or contact form.

Industrial Polythene Ltd

Unit 2 Stanley Court
Richard Jones Road
OX29 0TB

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