Plastics enable the eco-efficient manufacture of products including packaging and electronic devices. Lighter plastic components enable safety and resource efficiency solutions for cars and aircraft. And plastics help to insulate buildings and save lives in healthcare applications. Plastics have a positive effect on climate protection 12% to 15% of a modern car is made of plastic to help to reduce weight, save fuel and reduce emissions.
Plastic components impact fuel efficiency saving approximately 2.5 litres of fuel per kg used (equivalent to 6kg of CO2 emissions) over the lifetime of the vehicle. High performance plastic composites in the today’s aircraft similarly reduce weight and fuel consumption. Lightweight plastics packaging reduces the weight of transported goods and the amount of waste created - both of which reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If all plastics used in packaging were substituted with alternative materials it would be equivalent to adding another 25 million cars to European roads.
Nearly 40% of all energy consumed is used in buildings. Plastic insulation helps our homes to stay warm or cool in a sustainable, eco-efficient way. Plastics enable the blades in wind turbines to be longer and, therefore, more effective. Plastic components in solar panels increase their efficiency and make them more affordable.
Results from PlasticsEurope’s report from Denkstatt AG (The impact of plastics on life-cycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, June 2010), confirm that without plastic packaging it is estimated that the tonnage of alternative packaging would increase by a factor of almost four. Greenhouse gas emissions would rise by 61% and energy consumption by 57%.
Plastic packaging protects food as it travels from farms to supermarkets and then into our kitchens. In the developing world, 50% of food is wasted during this journey whilst only 2-3% gets wasted in Europe. At the supermarket, losses of unpacked fruit and vegetables are 26% higher than for pre-packed produce. 1.5g of plastic film can extend a cucumber’s shelf life from 3 to 14 days. 10g of multilayer film for meat extends shelf life from a few days to over a week. The amount of CO2 used to produce a single portion of meat is almost 100 times more than that used to produce the multilayer film used to package the meat.
The innovative use of plastic in modern washing machine drums reduces water and energy consumption by 40-50% compared to older models. Plastic pipes ensure efficient, safe and leak free transportation of drinking water and sewage, avoiding waste or contamination, and reduces the energy required for pumping.
Car airbags, motorcyclists’ helmets and protective clothing are made of plastics. Firefighters rely on flexible plastic clothing to protect against high temperatures and plastic equipment provides life saving ventilation.
Plastic packaging protects our food and drink from contamination. Plastic flooring and furniture are easy to clean, preventing the spread of germs and bacteria. In healthcare, plastics are used in a variety of ways: for blood pouches and tubing, artificial limbs and joints, contact lenses and artificial corneas, absorbable sutures, splints and screws that heal fractures.
New innovations will see nanoparticles/membrane permeability carrying medicines directly to damaged cells and micro-spirals will combat the symptoms of coronary disease.