Over recent years, reports have led us to believe that plastic is our nemesis and is to be avoided at all costs. The demand for glass bottles and wooden utensils has grown, we feel pressured to avoid anything packaged in plastic when we undertake our weekly grocery shop. However, there is a flip-side to this perceived evil, and as part of Plastic Free July we consider whether it is in fact human behaviour which should be seen as the pollutant.
Plastic Free July – Does plastic have its place?
You are probably reading this blog on a device that is 40% plastic. You may then get in your car (50% plastic) to drive home, where you will undoubtedly make use of an infinite number of items manufactured by machines which use plastic parts. As part of Plastic Free July, we want to take a moment to demonstrate how plastic can be a good thing and how industry, and our health, relies upon it.
We are all aware of Covid-19, many of us have been vaccinated against it. But were you aware that the impressive rate at which plastics’ manufacturers have responded to the urgency of the situation – from PPE in hospitals (3,000,000 visors and 50,000 bottles of hand sanitiser per week to the NHS) to lateral flow tests – our lives, and the return of normality, literally depend on plastics.
Plastic screens in shops and taxis have allowed them to function, plastic barriers have guided us around vaccine centres, and uncountable numbers of staff and patients have walked on plastic composite flooring in Covid-19 wards across the world’s hospitals.
Manufacturing vaccines has always been our beacon of hope throughout this deadly pandemic, and we are lucky to be administering these at an exponential rate throughout the world. And guess what? These would not exist without plastic and, in fact, a lack of plastic threatened the production of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines earlier this year when manufacturers struggled to get hold of the giant plastic bags they needed to mix the pharmaceutical ingredients.
Plastics are used in place of metal parts in many aspects of production and manufacture — throughout all industry, including health — plastic components are far lighter than metal, saving vast amounts of energy, resulting in a much smaller carbon footprint. Machinery has become markedly quieter over the years, mostly because of the sound-deadening characteristics of plastic components. Plastic is an incredible material. It is lightweight, recyclable, has a low carbon footprint and the manufacturing process is simple. Its benefits have become forgotten over time, but they still exist, albeit lost under misapprehensions fuelled by shocking images of piles of plastic in landfill.
Misinformation surrounding plastics
Misinformation has led us to believe that plastic is the root of all evil, that it leaches carcinogens into our foodstuffs and is thus toxic to our health. But a quick check of the materials used to package your food will usually result in confirmation that it is packaged in PET, a green, clean plastic that is strong, lightweight, hygienic and shatterproof.
Producing plastic uses far less energy than producing glass or metal because of its significantly lower melting point. Technological advancements have made plastic cheap to manufacture, and it is far superior to glass in both production and shipping; shipping glass containers is fraught with difficulties — not only is the material far heavier than plastic, it also needs additional protective packaging to stop it shattering during transit. The extra weight combined with excess packaging materials results in a notably larger carbon footprint than its lighter and more robust alternative.
Yes, plastic is a pollutant when humans use it badly. We discard an enormous amount of plastic each day, resulting in horrifying landfill statistics. For example, in 2018, we sent 27 million tonnes of plastic to landfill; we can all agree that this needs to be remedied but the way to do so is to educate people on what to do with their used plastic products — knowledge that currently needs to be sought because scaremongering news headlines, dressed up as education, often only provide poor and ill-advised alternatives.
Re-education is the antidote to false knowledge. Instead of frightening people with landfill images during Plastic Free July, we need to show them how plastic benefits our lives, and how to repurpose their plastic products for good — to harness the opportunities of this incredible material that is currently lost amongst an erroneous narrative.
If you want to excel in this ever-changing marketplace speak to the innovation experts at Energy Technology & Control who are ready to guide you.