The European plastics industry is a £200 billion business with the strongest commitment to the highest standards in the health, safety, quality and performance of its products. Around 25 per cent of global demand for plastic products is produced by European manufacturers who employ 1.6 million people. All of these businesses commit with enthusiasm to the legislation and regulation designed to protect our environment – with product and process innovation is at the heart of this.
Airbus A380 (left) uses 22% plastic, saving 15% fuel.
Plastics provide a very necessary and important role in society, not only through energy savings in construction, but making leisure more enjoyable and affordable, enabling communications and supporting a revolution in health care needs.
Imagine one day in life without plastic:
• Without computer components, television’s, radio’s and MP3 players.
PVC-U windows can be energy rated, under the British Fenestration Rating Council's Window Energy Rating Scheme (WER), with PVC-U windows achieving over 85% of the "A" ratings in the scheme. The WER Scheme works on the same principle as the schemes which consumers are more familar with, such as energy rating badges on cars or white goods. The PVC-U window industry is one of the most innovative within the fenestration industry, with projects such as Vinyl 2010 and Recovinyl ensuring that manufacturing and recycling continue to see improvements.
The truth is that plastics in all their forms play an indisputable role across the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development. In fact, all of the world’s plastics are made using the equivalent of only 4 per cent of all oil and gas extraction as a feedstock. And to complement existing technologies we have already developed the ability to create bio-based plastics and degradable additives.
Plastic Blood may sound impossible, but researchers at the University of Sheffield have created a ‘plastic blood’, which is able to mimic hemoglobin and carry oxygen around the body. Not only could this be a revolutionary step-forward for the medical world, but due to its very nature, the plastic blood is able to be carried and stored a lot easier than “natural blood”.
The medical device market is one of today’s most dynamic business sectors. Not using plastics in this area is now unimaginable, especially with regard to the issue of sterility. Easy processing, break resistance, low weight and the possibility of modification for very particular specifications offers definite advantages over conventional materials such as metal, glass and ceramics. Probably the biggest contribution of plastics is the containment of infection risks, with the big revolution being the development of single use products, such as the humble PVC Blood Bag. Modified atmosphere packs and PVC blood bags to microelectronic components, we have used innovation as our foundation for the future. We have developed dose-dispensing packs for pharmaceuticals and medicines, created safety closures including tamper-proof and tamper-evident packs. The plastics industry plays a vital role in the development of innovative and safe products for the medical industry, through products such as: Artifical Skin, Blister Packs and Dosage Packs for the pharmaceutical industry and Heart and Lung bypass sets, to name but a few.
A typical supermarket delivery vehicle carrying products will have 3 per cent of its weight in plastic packaging. By contrast, similar products packed in glass would bring the packaging weight up to 36 per cent of the loaded vehicle with massive impacts on fuel consumption, road movements and exhaust emissions.
Innovation in plastics brings us packaging which is lightweight, low volume and low-impact, creating products which protect and preserve so that food is easy to cook, ready to eat and available in portions which suit our needs and individual tastes. Furthermore, in spite of a greater reliance on plastic, the packaging we use for our food actually saves resources and prevents wastage. The simple shrink wrapping around a cucumber may have become an icon of packaging waste but its ability to prevent moisture loss serves to maintain freshness and extend its life on the shelf from three to ten days, bringing consequent major reductions in wastage and the transport impacts needed to replace rotting produce.
Look no further than the BPF's Packaging Group for factual information on plastic packaging and innovation.
Centres of Polymer Excellence
There are numerous centre of polymer innovation within the UK, with the Polymer IRC leading the way. The Polymer IRC brings together scientists from the Universities of Bradford, Durham, Leeds and the Sheffield Polymer Centre to form one of the largest groupings of Polymer Specialists in Europe. are no doubt driving forces within academia and industry alike. Indeed the VinylSUM project is a good example of where academia and industry can work together to push forward innovation, with tangible results.
The BPF is here to help:
Over the last year the BPF has continued to work hard to develop its project portfolio to benefit the industry by helping it create a competitive advantage, whilst becoming more sustainable. Projects recently include Lightfoam, Rotoflex and EU PlastVoltage. The BPF will continue to develop its project portfolio to match the needs of the UK industry and encourage innovation in the plastics sector.