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In Frank Herbert's book Dune, much of the Fremen's technology is based on plastic. For example, still suits and dew collectors are both plastic items, as are the tents the Fremen use.

On Earth, plastics are mostly made from petroleum. However, to the best of my memory, no oil deposits on Arrakis are mentioned in Dune - and drilling for oil in the deep desert (where the Fremen live) seems like it would have many of the same difficulties as spice mining.

Did Herbert ever mention (e.g. in the sequels) how the Fremen make or obtain their plastics?

  • melange-based plastic with plyotyl mixed in to provide the needed flexibility – Naib Mar 10 '18 at 8:27
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In Dune, Paul's mother Jessica seems to imply that the plastic is made from spice when talking to Stilgar as they enter Sietch Tabr for the first time… 

How rich the odors of your sietch, Stilgar. I see you do much working with the spice… you make paper… plastics… and isn't that chemical explosives?'

So it seems clear the plastics are derived from spice.

You'll find this towards the end of Book II "MUAD'DIB" of Dune.

  • Although Valorum's answer is more comprehensive, I'm accepting this one because it makes it clear that the idea of plastic made from spice was in the original book, rather than a later retcon. – Nathaniel Mar 10 '18 at 14:48
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    Although... the odors she's referring to are "unwashed bodies, distillate esters of reclaimed wastes, everywhere the sour effluvia of humanity with, over it all, a turbulence of spice and spicelike harmonics". This actually suggests the plastics are made from reclaimed waste, since distilling the esters would presumably be the first step in making polyesters. So perhaps she's saying that they work with spice and make plastic, out of reclaimed waste. But the later works in Valorum's answer do seem to confirm it's made of spice. – Nathaniel Mar 10 '18 at 15:00
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    (I have to admit I don't really like the idea of spice plastic. The spice is already the wonder drug that does almost everything, so making it also into a wonder material for manufacturing seems a bit much. So probably in my own headcanon I'll go with the reclaimed waste explanation, even though the spice one does seem to be more correct.) – Nathaniel Mar 10 '18 at 15:06
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    I actually excluded this quote because it didn't seem terribly conclusive. – Valorum Mar 10 '18 at 16:26
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    I found another relevant quote in the first book. After arriving on Arrakis, Duke Leto says to Paul, "did you know we're using spice residue as raw material and already have our own factory to manufacture filmbase? We mustn't run short of filmbase. Else, how could we flood village and city with our information?" This is the Atreides rather than the Fremen of course, but under the reasonable assumption that filmbase is a kind of plastic, this at least shows that it's possible and practical to make plastic out of spice. – Nathaniel Apr 6 '18 at 13:56
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There's a reference in God Emperor of Dune to "spice-plastic" being used on a (pre-Tyrant) reproduction Fremen drum. Presumably the plastics seen in earlier novels are of a similar construction.

As they neared the qanat they heard music from a high entrance of the sietch. It was an old-style Fremen group—two-holed flutes, tambourines, tympani made on spice-plastic drums with skins stretched taut across one end. No one asked what animal on this planet provided that much skin.


Later books by Herbert's son make more specific claims about its construction and use.

They went together with a security contingent and entered a small warehouse. Inside, workers moved about like insects in a hive, busily packaging small books, stacking them into containers, preparing them for wide distribution across the Imperium. Irulan smelled spice-based plastic and paper dust in the air, along with the ubiquitous musk of sweat and the metal tang of machinery.

Winds of Dune

and

Unswerving, Warrick walked into a common chamber where adolescents trampled raw spice in tubs; unmarried women curded melange distillate for the production of plastics and fuel. Against the walls, the whing and slap of a power loom made a hypnotic rhythm. Other Fremen labored meticulously on stillsuits, repairing and checking the intricate mechanisms.

Dune: House Harkonnen


Pretty much all of the devices used by the Fremen are specifically referred to as being made of "spiceplastic" in the Dune Encyclopedia

Maker hooks were long, thin shafts of spiceplastic, ranging in length from 1.35 meters to 2.1 meters, and in diameter from 1.0 to 1.47 cm, differing no doubt according to the size of the beast and the degree of skill of their users.

and

Working examples of the paracompass show almost no deterioration of the melange-based plastic casing.

and

The Fremen apparatus used to attract sandworms. An indispensable aid for travel and often for survival, the Fremen thumper was a spiceplastic stake pointed at one end and attached to a spring-driven clapper at the other.

and

Construction of the normal watertube was somewhat simpler than the device's sophistication suggests. The compound used for the body of the tube was melange-based plastic with plyotyl mixed in to provide the needed flexibility.

etc.

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