Plastics reduce energy use and CO2 emissions. If all of the plastic used in Europe each year were substituted with a mix of alternative materials then an additional 50 million tones of crude oil would be required annually. Using plastics instead of other materials effectively reduces the amount of CO2 produced in Europe by some 120 million tones each year. This amounts to 38% of the EU15 Kyoto target for 2000-2012.
Plastics also reduce waste. Across their life-cycle, plastics consume less and require less raw materials compared with other materials. Products packaged with plastics, from food and drink to computers and TVs, last longer and are less likely to be damaged.
Plastics are reused in many ways from soft drink bottles to supermarket carrier bags. Transport and display trays are another example of reused plastics, providing a hygienic, robust and cost-effective way of transporting fresh food from retailer’s depots to their shops.
Plastics recycling tonnage has been increasing annually by approximately 11% per year over the past 10 years. In 2009 this growth fell back to just 3.1% on the back of the economic crisis. It is not only bottles and industrial film packaging which drive the growth. Initiatives, which include the PVC industry’s Recovinyl system (covering pipes, window frames, roofing membranes and flooring), and mixed packaging plastics recycling, are also contributing to the increase of plastic recycling.
This important development must continue. The full potential of existing recycling streams must be realized and new eco-efficient streams developed.
There will always be a part of end-of-life plastics that is only eco-efficient to recover through an energy-from-waste plant or process into a fuel that can be used as an energy resource by industry. With a similar calorific value to fuel oil, plastics can readily be used as a substitute for primary fossil fuels. Plastics are simply too valuable to throw away.