Benefits of Plastics
The Benefits of Plastic Products and their Sustainability
The versatility of plastics can meet almost any requirement from designers and customers. Plastics are lightweight and durable and their versatility in colour, touch and shape gives tremendous marketing advantages.
Plastics are part of the solution to arresting Climate Change.
The plastics industry only consumes 4% of the world’s oil production as feedstock. The rest is used for energy and transport. The production of most plastic products is not energy intensive compared to metals, glass and paper.
Plastic products play a major role in saving and conserving energy and power safety.
- 22% of an Airbus A380 double-decker aircraft is built with lightweight carbon fibre reinforced plastics, saving fuel and lowering operating costs by 15%
- 105kg of plastics, rather than traditional materials in a car weighing 1,000kg, makes possible a fuel saving of 750 litres over a lifespan of 90,000 miles. This reduces oil consumption by 12 million tonnes and consequently CO2 emissions by 30 million tonnes in the European Union.
- BMW in its 6 series Coupe uses a rear boot lid made of composites and thermoplastic front wings. This has saved 100 kilos in weight.
- Without plastics, packaging weight could increase by as much as 400%, production and energy costs could double and material wastage increase by 150%
- Renewable energies rely on plastics (pipes, solar panels, wind turbines, rotors)
- PVC-U double glazed windows and doors are essential for an energy efficient home. They have a minimum 35 years life and are easily maintained. The BRE’s Green Guide has given PVC-U windows an A rating
- Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Insulation has a key role to play with the heating and cooling of buildings accounting for half of Europe’s total energy consumption
- Durable and flexible plastic pipes prevent leakage of valuable water. 772 miles of London cracked Victorian water mains are being replaced by blue plastic pipes
- Modern plastic processing machinery (injection moulding) use between 20%-50% less energy compared to 10 years ago. All electric machines would yield a 75% overall saving.
- Plastics do not conduct electricity so PVC is widely used to insulate wiring, while thermosets are used for switches, light fittings and handles
- A plastic carrier bag weighs six times less that alternative materials
- Use of plastic bottles rather than alternatives leads to savings of up to 40% on distribution fuel costs and saves on transport pollution.
Industry targets and achievements on recovery and recycling of used plastics
Plastics can be recycled at the end of use, typically for a maximum of six times. If it does not make economic or environmental sense to recycle, used plastics should go to Energy from Waste to provide much needed power. Used plastics should not be sent to landfill. It is a waste of a valuable resource.
Plastic packaging constitutes around 8% of the household waste stream and only 5% of waste going to landfill.
21.8% of used plastic packaging was recycled in 2005 but this percentage is rapidly rising as more local authorities collect plastic. Approximately 33% of available plastic bottles from households were recycled in 2007, a 15% increase on the previous year. The EU Directive on packaging waste has set a target of 22.5% to be achieved by 31st December 2008.
The main end products for recycled High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) include pipes, pots, crates and other moulded products while recovered films are turned into sacks, bags and damp-proof membranes. The vast majority of recovered PET is used in the polyester fibre industry although there is a growing demand for PET for closed loop packaging.
Last year 42,000 tonnes of used PVC from UK construction uses were recycled, a European record. It was recycled into window frames, pipe, conduits, flooring and safety products. Last year 33% of packaging Expanding Polystyrene (EPS) was collected and recycled.
Used plastics has a higher calorific value than coal and where it does not make economic or environmental sense to recycle it, then it should go to energy from waste (EfW) incineration to provide much needed home-grown energy and avoid expensive imports.
Unfortunately, compared to our European neighbours, the UK has very little EfW capacity and relies excessively on diminishing landfill. The UK for a population of 60.5 million has only 21 EfW plants whereas environmentally conscious Denmark for a population of 5 million has 32 EfW plants.