Material of the 21st century: plastics move the world

A PET bottle weighs around 37 grams, a glass bottle around 600 grams; in other words: 16 PET bottles weigh approximately as much as one glass bottle of the same volume. The low weight of the PET bottle presents a significant economical as well as ecological advantage: because PET bottles are so light, the cargo hold of a truck can be fully used without overloading the vehicle, and fewer vehicles on the road means less environmental pollution from car exhaust. With a per capita consumption of 131 liters of mineral water, a consumer would have to transport around 80 kilograms of empty glass bottles per year, while the same number of PET bottles only weighs 4.85 kilograms. Clear advantage for plastics.

An uninsulated single-family house, built in the 1960s, loses up to two thirds of its heating energy through external walls, cellar and roof. Every year, approxi-mately 2000 liters of heating oil are wasted this way. In order to prevent the heat loss and reduce the energy demand, houses need a solid coat of modern insulating materials. The most important fully synthetic material in heat insulation is foamed polystyrene. Most widely used is expanded polystyrene rigid foam (EPS), which can be formed into blocks, boards, and other geometrical shapes.

Extruded polystyrene rigid foam (XPS) can be produced as a continuous string of foam in varying dimensions (also see Topic of the Month February 2011: “Comfort is key – synthetics as cold weather protection”). All in all, polymer foams sustainably contribute to the insulation of buildings, to the advantage not only of the consumer, but also of the environment. In comparison: The consumption of heating oil in a conventionally built house is approximately 19 liters per square meter (2470 liters/year), the consumption of a house with synthetic insulation only 5.5 liters (585 liters /year).

A reduction of 1900 liters of heating oil translates into savings of 1600 Euros and a reduction of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide of more than 75 percent; instead of 7700 kilograms of carbon dioxide, only 1800 kilograms are emitted.

Around eight percent of the German drinking water seeps into the ground un-used, which approximately equals a billion liters per day. Across Europe, the rate of loss is even higher with approximately 25 percent. A similar situation can be found for waste water: approximately a third of the waste water system shows faults and defects. Drinking water pipes usually consist of different materials, such as plastics, metals and composite materials. Aside from steel, underground pipes also use polyethylene pipes (PE-pipes) or pipes made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

For installations in the house, pipes are predominantly made of copper, stainless steel, galvanized steel (threaded tube), aluminum-multilayer composite and other plastics (PE, PVC-U). Plastic pipes are increasingly used because of their quick and simple installation. The repair of (often aging-related) damages on underground pipes and sewers nowadays mostly utilizes repair methods that do not require digging and therefore avoid damage to streets and sidewalks.