All products have an impact on the environment throughout their lifecycle. The plastics industry works hard to minimise these impacts. In fact, plastic products offer many environmental benefits that are often overlooked.
Most plastics are made from the byproducts of oil refining and gas production processes. To learn more about how plastics are made, have a look at this good explanation: ]
Only 4% of the world’s crude oil and natural gas production is used for plastics and much less energy is used to produce it compared to other materials. Increasingly, plastics are being manufactured from renewable reseources including algae, waste products, and non-food crops.
Plastics are durable yet lightweight and save weight in cars, aircraft, packaging and pipework.
There are actually many environmental benefits in choosing plastic products. Here are 10 examples of how plastics provide benefits to New Zealand’s economy, environment and society:
All plastics account for less than 4% of the crude oil and natural gas consumed annually. Plastics also take less energy to produce than other materials. A recent European study found that replacing plastics with other materials would require the use of 46 percent more energy and result in a 50 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions.¹
Total air emissions through all stages of production, use and disposal of plastics range between 63% and 73% less than alternative materials.
Emissions to waterfrom the manufacture of plastics are approximately 90% less than those created during the manufacture of alternative materials.
Today’s plastics make up 50 percent of the volume of new cars but only 10 percent of the weight, which helps make cars lighter and more fuel efficient, resulting in fewer CO2 emissions.
Contrary to a popular misconception, plastics are not a major component of the solid waste stream. In New Zealand, plastics represent only 8% of total solid waste (by weight) going to landfill. Plastics are a valuable resource, however, and we believe they should not end their life in landfill, rather they should have their energy content recovered or be recycled.
Plastics are essential in modern day healthcare. Plastics products are used in surgery and are critical in reducing the risk of cross infection. These include disposable blood bags, tubing, catheters, syringes, protective gloves, artificial limbs, and lifesaving valves.
Windturbine rotor blades and photovoltaic panels contain large amounts of plastics. Thanks to these major contributions to the efficient production of renewable energy, plastics can help save 140 times and 340 times respectively, the emissions produced during their production.
Plastic insulation has the lowest thermal conductivity of commonly used materials. In buildings, plastics provide effective insulation from cold and heat and prevent air leakages. Plastic insulation materials consume approximately 16% less energy and emit 9% less greenhouse gases than alternative materials. Across their whole life cycle, plastic insulation boards save 150 times the energy used for their manufacture.
Plastic food packaging delivers more efficient protection, reduces food waste and extends shelf life, thereby saving energy and greenhouse gas emissions. Plastics packaging for meat, for instance, extend shelf life by three to six days and even longer for the most advanced packaging.
The New Zealand plastics industry generates a turnover of $4 billion a year and employs more than 8000 people.
¹ Denkstatt GmbH. The impact of plastics on life cycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. Vienna, Austria. June 2010, p. 11.