Plastics and the Reduction of Greenhouse Gases
Plastics are one of the most resource efficient materials available today and products made from plastics help save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Plastic products are light weight, which translates into fuel savings during transportation. Their protective properties prevent losses due to damaged goods. And their insulating properties save energy that would otherwise be required for heating or air conditioning. All of these energy savings translate directly into reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Plus, plastic products also save energy at the end of their life cycle – either through recycling or recovery of energy from waste. A recent study found that if plastics were to be replaced by alternative materials across the whole of Western Europe, there would be additional energy requirement of around 10 per cent or about 25 million tonnes of crude oil, which corresponds to 105 million tonnes of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions per year. This is equivalent to a third of the Kyoto reduction targets for EU-15 countries.
In terms of packaging alone, a separate study found that the use of plastics in packaging (versus alternative materials) saves 582.6 million gigajoules of energy per year. That’s the amount equivalent to 101.3 million barrels of oil. The study also found that the use of plastic packaging in western Europe reduces GHG emissions by 42.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. That’s equivalent to 12.3 million passenger cars per year, which represented 72 per cent of all private passenger vehicles registered in Canada in 1995.