Plastic has taken a huge amount of blame as one of the main culprits for filling up landfill sites, and contributing to global warming. Whilst the finger is often pointed at gas-guzzling motors, plastic is very much blamed for the environmental damage.
The big question here: is it really as bad as it’s perceived? Omega Plastics sheds light on how plastics have positively impacted the environment, allowing you to make your own judgement on this essential material.
How have plastics changed?
In previous centuries, recycling wasn’t as prominent in society – in fact, it 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.
Attitudes towards plastic production has changed dramatically as the UK moves further towards environmentally friendly living. 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.
Previously, recyclable plastics were limited to only a few types – however, as technology develops, recyclable plastics can be created, which serve the same purpose but are more environmentally friendly.
Thanks to a combination of technical advancements and altered perceptions, the types of plastics we’re creating and how we deal with end-of-life waste has improved. In short, the impact has been reduced — plastic isn’t the same enemy as it has been in the past.
How has the production of plastics improved?
As the UK shifts towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, improved plastic production methods have altered the impact creating plastic has on the environment. However, this isn’t just in terms of minimising waste.
To create plastic products with precision, plastic injection moulding is a popular manufacturing method that uses moulds. The process involves 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 use between 20% and 50% less energy than they once did. This is just one example of how plastic production processes have been improved to minimise the effect on the environment. The benefits are widespread.
Creating alternative uses
Whilst packaging is one of the main uses of plastic across the UK, it seems we are continuously finding 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.
An example of this is the motoring industry whereby in some cases, instead of using metal for the production of some parts, car manufacturers are turning to polymers instead. Not only are these more affordable, they are lighter too, reducing the overall weight of the vehicle. This can have a positive impact on fuel efficiency and energy savings, minimising the use of fuels in the future.
The building industry can also find the use of plastic materials beneficial. Through using plastics to create insulation and double glazing, we are able to conserve heat and prevent the non-essential warming of homes and businesses.
And of course, let’s not forget the plastic five-pound note, which has been in circulation since 13th 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.
Whilst plastic has always been considered a threat to the environment, as you can see, it’s clear that they also offer numerous benefits when it comes to minimising waste and further damage to the environment. With increased technological advancements, plastics are set to become even more eco-friendly.