Polymers are molecular chains that form everything from trees to plastics to soil stabilizers. But what exactly is a polymer? Are there different kinds? What do they do? And when should you use polymers to stabilize soil? 

We’ll answer all these questions. First, we’ll cover the basics of what a polymer is, polymerization, types, environmental impact, and uses. Then, we’ll dive into polymer soil stabilization. 

What Is a Polymer? 

Simply put, polymers are special molecules. To understand more, it’s time for a Greek lesson! Poly means many, and mer means part. So, polymer literally means many parts. 

A polymer is one big molecule—called a macromolecule—that’s comprised of many smaller molecules. Those small molecules are called monomers. (Mono means one, so monomer means one part.)

Graphic of a polymer molecule

What Is Polymerization? 

Polymerization is the chemical process that creates polymers. It happens when many monomers of the same type bond together. Those bonded monomers create a single polymer that looks like a repeating chain of identical molecules. 

For example, imagine many vinyl chloride monomers bond together through polymerization. They form polyvinyl chloride—which we call PVC. 

Types of Polymers

Many types of polymers exist, but you can generally classify them as either natural or synthetic. Let’s take a look at both types. 

Natural Polymers

Natural polymers occur on their own; they are not manufactured. They can be organic (polymers that include carbon molecules) or inorganic (those that lack carbon). 

Here are some examples of natural polymers and where they occur in the wild:

  • Cellulose - tree trunks and cotton
  • Wool - sheep, alpacas, and Angora rabbits
  • Silk - silk worms
  • Protein - muscles and organs
  • Starch - potatoes, corn, and other produce
  • Lipids - cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Oxyacids - boric acid and silicic acid

Synthetic Polymers

Synthetic polymers are man-made. Like natural polymers, they’re also organic or inorganic. The difference is simply that humans manufactured synthetic polymers. 

Here are some synthetic polymers:

  • Plastic like PVC, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyester, and nylon
  • Acrylic like polyvinyl acetate and sodium polyacrylate
  • Rubber like butadiene rubber, neoprene, and silicon

Notice the names of plastics often include the word “poly.” That’s a sure sign you’re talking about a polymer product!

Environmental Impact of Polymers

Many man-made materials are environmentally harmful. Think of the Great Pacific Garbage patch—a big, floating pool of plastic particles in the ocean.

Now, you know plastics are polymers. So you might be wondering, “Are all polymers bad for the environment? And should I stop using them?”

The answer is no. The environmental impact of polymers depends entirely on what type of polymer you’re talking about. 

Natural polymers are essential for sustaining life. We need plants for food and to produce oxygen. We need muscles so we can move. Natural polymers have a positive environmental impact because they keep people, plants, and animals alive.

Synthetic polymers are trickier. Many don’t biodegrade—or if they do, they take thousands of years. So, they can pollute water, soil, and food sources. Some, like BPA plastics, can cause cancer if a person is overexposed to them through manufacturing or heavy use. 

However, as you’ll see in the next section, it’s almost impossible to exist in modern society without using polymer products. If you’re concerned about their environmental or health impacts, the best solution is to reduce your consumption of synthetic polymers. 

For example, try using: 

  • Reusable water bottles and grocery bags
  • Glass containers instead of plastic
  • Natural rubber instead of synthetic
  • Cloth diapers for your kids
  • Recycling centers for eligible materials

Polymer Uses

Humans use polymers for almost everything. Don’t believe us? Shut your eyes, reach out, and touch a random object near you. Now look at it. If it’s wood, plastic, or most fabrics, it contains a polymer. 

We use synthetic polymers in most everyday, manufactured products. We rely on natural polymers daily, too. We use them for food and clothes; plus, our bodies make their own so we can survive. 

Different polymers have different advantages and disadvantages. Some are strong, some are water-resistant, some are edible, and some are toxic. The trick is using the right polymer for the right purpose. 

We bet you’re familiar with these common polymeric items: 







Cotton or polyester clothes


Your muscles



Non-leather shoes

Sports equipment

Paper goods




Board game pieces


Plumbing pipes







The list could go on, but you get the idea: we use polymers in almost everything! 

Polymer Soil Stabilization

We work with soil here at Substrata, so we want to dig into one of the most surprising (and coolest) uses for polymers: soil stabilization. 

Soil stabilization is when you change soil’s composition so it’ll do something you want—like support a road or a house. Polymer soil stabilizers help you do that. They can be binders, lubricants, or geotechnical textiles.


Binders are stabilizers that hold soil together. Some polymer soil stabilizers are injectable foam binders, while others come in a liquid spray called an emulsion.

Contractors inject foam-based polymeric resins directly into problem areas. The liquid polymer seeps through pores in the soil. When it hardens, it glues the soil together so it’s stable and load-bearing.

Contractors also spray polymer emulsions on top of the soil. They let the emulsion harden into a crust on the surface to suppress dust. For soil stabilization that goes deeper and lasts longer, they work the polymer into the soil using heavy machinery. 


Not all polymers glue soil together. Some polymer emulsions simply wet the soil, lubricating it so other soil stabilization methods work better. 

For example, contractors wet a dirt road with a polymer emulsion. Then, they mix aggregate into the soil. Thanks to the moisture from the emulsion, the soil particles “float” between the aggregate particles, helping interlock the soil and rocks tightly together for a more stable surface. Now, the road will have less erosion and mud. 

Geotechnical textiles

Geotechnical textiles are special fabrics made from fibers. They can be made of natural or synthetic polymers, but the one thing they have in common is that they’re all used expressly for soil stabilization. Some geotechnical textiles are woven, with large or small openings between threads. Others are non-woven fabrics that look like felt. 

Geotechnical textiles are permeable, letting water pass through but holding everything else in place. Contractors place them over soil or rock to help prevent erosion and improve drainage. The fabric catches the soil and aggregate particles contractors want to keep, while letting water flow and smaller particles wash away. 

When Should I Use Polymer Soil Stabilizers?

You need some type of soil stabilization when you’re combatting mud, dust, erosion, shifting soil, frost boils, potholes, and similar unpaved road problems

However, that doesn’t always mean you need polymeric soil stabilization. Polymers may be good for your budget or the type of soil problems you’re facing… but they only work on coarser soils—not fine, clay-based soils. (That’s because polymers can’t grip onto the tiny clay particles.)

They may also be a bad choice if you’re concerned about the environment or want very long-lasting results. Like other synthetic polymers, synthetic soil stabilizers can pollute water and food. They also break down over time. Once they no longer bind soil together, it becomes unstable again.

Chances are, you can find an alternative method that’s more affordable and environmentally friendlier. For example, you could consider an enzyme-based soil stabilizer like Perma-Zyme—it’s 100% natural and organic, and it stabilizes soil for 10-15 years with little to no maintenance. 


In a nutshell, polymers are both natural and man-made molecules that are very useful for sustaining our lives—and lifestyles! We use them for everything from food to sticky notes to stabilizing our soil.

However, there are some concerns with polymer soil stabilization, like the limited soil types they work on, temporary results, and environmental impact. With that in mind, it’s wise to consider eco-friendly, sustainable alternatives like Perma-Zyme. 

Check out alternatives to polymer soil stabilization.

You May Also Like

These Stories on Perma-Zyme

Subscribe by Email