UK's Omega Plastics writes that “it's easy to point the finger when it comes to what is damaging the environment.” The company ask: “Alongside gas-guzzling motors, plastic has been a target for many years now — but is it really as bad as it's perceived?”
Plastic then and now
Prior to the 21st century, recycling was pretty low on many people's agendas. However, thanks to a continued push to go green, we're now more aware of the waste we produce.
In 2001, just 12.5% of household waste in England was recycled. This figure climbed to 44.9% in 2014 which, although it showed an incredible growth over the 13 years, is still short of the EU's 50% by 2020 target.
The UK's shift towards environmentally friendly living has changed our attitudes to plastic production. Nowadays, companies actively look for recyclable plastics for their products and packaging, building an impressive corporate social responsibility to set them apart from their competitors. According to the British Plastics Federation, 29% of the plastic used in the UK is from recovered or recycled material.
In the past, only certain types of plastics have been recycled. Now, as technology develops, recyclable plastics can be created, which serve the same purpose, but are more environmentally responsible.
Overall, a combination of technical advancements and altered perceptions has improved the types of plastics we're creating and how we deal with end-of-life waste. We are working to reduce the impact and increase the benefits of the use of plastics in everyday life.
As we have already mentioned, improved plastic production methods have altered the impact of plastic materials on the environment, and not just in terms of minimising waste.
Plastic injection moulding, which allows multiple plastic products to be created with precision, requires the use of specialist machinery which, because the plastic needs to be melted, can consume a lot of energy. However, over the past 10 years, the machines have become more refined, and now consume between 20% and 50% less energy than they once did.
Creating alternative uses
Packaging may be one of the main uses of plastic in the UK but, over time, we're finding more and more uses for it. While many may argue that this increased plastic consumption has a negative effect on the environment, it can actually prove beneficial in the long term.
The motoring industry is a perfect example of this. Metal replacement is a steadily growing trend in this industry. Using plastics instead of metal can cut costs and reduce the overall weight of the vehicle. Less weight has a positive impact on fuel efficiency, saving energy and lowering carbon emissions.
The construction industry has also benefitted from the use of plastics materials - pipes, electrical cables, even window frames for double glazing are commonly made of plastic today – because of their durability, affordability and efficiency of use.
And let's not forget the plastic five-pound note, which will be in circulation from 13 September 2016. The note, which features Sir Winston Churchill, will be made from plastic rather than cotton paper. Plastic has been chosen to keep notes cleaner and more durable and make them harder to counterfeit. Notes will last for up to five years, and will be 15% smaller than existing notes, making the production process more energy-efficient.
While many question the eco-friendly properties of plastic, as we have shown, these materials can offer considerable benefits when it comes to minimising waste - from packaging that can prevent food spoilage to lightweight fuel-efficient vehicles - and future technological advancements will keep plastics firmly set on a sustainable course.