Every year December hits and I, like many individuals, fondly look forward to the next several weeks. Spending time with family and friends, baking lots of cookies and tasty treats and just enjoying what many of us dub “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Do you find, like me, that walking the toy aisles in search of the perfect gift for a young niece or nephew, brings you to reflect on toys you loved as a child? This year I saw one of my favorite toys from years past – Shrinky Dinks (“the incredible shrinking plastic.”)  In case you haven’t heard of Shrinky Dinks, the base material consists of thin, flexible polystyrene plastic sheets (made from the petrochemical styrene) which you can use to draw your own designs. Once you are done with the design you place the Shrinky Dinks piece into a home oven or toaster oven for two magic minutes and watch as they shrink to approximately 1/3rd their original size and become nine times thicker. The whole process is a cool mini-science experiment. Plus I bet you may not have known that this is the same process used to “shrink wrap” meats or other grocery items that have protective plastic wraps.

And what about the Rubik’s Cube which was created 40 years ago and is the world’s top-selling puzzle game (over 350 million and counting)? The 3-D mechanical puzzle is made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene or ABS (and as the name suggests is made from the petrochemicals acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene) and nylon (also made from petrochemicals). Do you think you can beat the current world record of 5.55 seconds for solving the cube?

Another classic toy which the engineer in me loves is Legos. These fantastic interlocking toy bricks were first manufactured in 1949, and over 560 billion Lego parts have been produced. Legos are made of ABS and allow for maximum creativity whether you want to create your own vehicle, Star Wars® scene or even an entire city. This toy provides countless hours of fun and imagination.

The list of toys made from petrochemicals as a starting material goes on and on…Transformers, G.I. Joe, Lite Brite, Frisbees and much more. At the end of the day if you haven’t found the perfect gift then go with a gift card – often made from polyvinyl chloride (created from the petrochemical ethylene as a building block). It’s the most wonderful time of the year thanks to petrochemicals.

Melissa Hockstad

Posted by Melissa Hockstad

Melissa Hockstad is the former Vice President of Petrochemicals for AFPM. To learn more about AFPM, visit AFPM.org.