Why Plastic? Are There Alternatives to Plastic?

3 minute read

Posted on 24/08/20

Why Plastic? Are There Alternatives to Plastic?

Plastics contribute immensely to the three pillars of sustainability, which are 1) environmental sustainability, 2) economic sustainability, and 3) social sustainability. Plastic not only contributes to energy saving, but its intrinsic recyclability also makes it a sound choice. In addition, plastic supports our intricate economy, as it plays a major role in exporting. Finally, the plastics industry is a key provider of wide-ranging employment, generously bringing training and education to the job market.

Are there alternative to plastic?

The British Plastics Federation notes that several factors are considered when deciding whether plastic is the best choice, including:

– The overall material weight in bulk

– How much water, energy, land is used in production

– The distance packaging has to travel

– CO2 emissions involved for the production of different products

– Resource efficiency and recyclability of packaging

Overall, when other materials are used, the impact to the environment is greater. Land, energy, and water usage along with overall weight in bulk has the potential to quadruple what is known by researchers as the “environmental cost.” So, while in theory, alternatives to plastic may sound more environmentally friendly, there is significantly more to consider when attempting to apply alternatives to existing processes across different industries.

Trucost provides a look at environmental cost, including ocean damage, end of life management, transport, production, and material and energy recovery. Their research breaks down these sources of environmental cost into three separate categories to determine the viability of alternatives to plastic.

1. Business as usual – £139 billion

2. More sustainable plastic – £98 billion

3. Alternatives to plastic – £533 billion

Their findings suggest that business as usual and more sustainable plastic are the most optimized methods for keeping environmental cost at a minimum, considering projected consumer demand and the upturn of current trends.

How has plastic helped different industries?

Plastic has been instrumental in helping the modern world come to fruition. Modern day products and conveniences are often overlooked, but if you take a moment to appreciate how plastic has impacted your own life, you may be surprised just how much it’s relied upon.

For instance, milk was originally delivered in glass bottles, however, now that it is available in plastic, it’s both easier and safer to transport. Similarly, fresh produce is available in a host of different portion sizes, all packaged neatly within plastic containers for your convenience. Grapes were previously sold in loose bunches and while that may seem like a great idea, in application, it resulted in excessive waste. Being able to provide bunches of grapes in neatly sealed trays has reduced waste and allowed consumers to purchase what they need and transport it home carefully.

Plastic hasn’t only impacted produce; it has also greatly contributed to modern medicine by providing sterilized tools like syringes, IV tubes, and insulin pens, to name a few. In addition, because of plastic’s inherent malleability, it is also molded to create medical devices. These medical devices are used during surgeries and other procedures, benefiting human health and aiding with saving lives.

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