Plastics have a role to play when it comes to reducing the use of our natural resources and waste. Plastics allow us to do more with less. Doing more with less helps save energy, reduce the use of materials and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Plastics packaging helps bring home more product with less packaging. For example, less than 1 kilogram of plastic can deliver roughly 40 litres of a beverage such as juice, soda or water. You’d need almost two to four times as much packaging to bring home the same amount of product in traditional materials. Plastics engineers are always working to do even more with less. Since 1977, the 2-litre plastic soft drink bottle has gone from weighing 68 grams to under 48 grams today, representing almost 30 per cent reduction per bottle. That saves more than 93 million kilograms of packaging each year. The 1-gallon plastic milk jug has also undergone a reduction, weighing 30 per cent less than what it did 20 years ago. In the past 15 years, there has been an estimated 22 per cent reduction in the energy consumed and associated emissions required to produce a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) fabric softener bottle, and an estimated 18 per cent reduction in emissions to produce a polypropylene (PP) yogurt container. Since the 1970’s plastic trash bags have been made thinner by 50 per cent, produce bags by 60 per cent and grocery sacks by 66 per cent. The packaging industry continues to reduce the thickness of their products, where possible, and as technology permits. Plastics make packaging more efficient, which ultimately conserves resources.
Take, for example, the automotive industry. Plastics allow vehicles to run more efficiently, ensuring greater fuel savings and generating less atmospheric emissions. The use of plastics in the manufacturing of automobiles has allowed automakers to reduce the weight of the vehicles, while maintaining the same level of performance, thus improving gas mileage. A European study found that using 100 kg of plastic material in modern cars replaces between 200 and 300 kgs of other materials. This reduces fuel consumption by 750 litres over the 150,000 km life span of the average car. The improvement of gas mileage and reduction of emissions becomes ever more important given the escalating prices of fuel in today’s economy and the demands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Reduction resulting from the use of plastics is also evident in the home construction sector. Studies have shown that the buildings and homes constructed each year with plastic insulation will save 58.6 million more barrels of oil for heat and air conditioning over the course of their lives than they would if an alternative form of insulation were used. That is the equivalent of more than 40 oil tanker shipments. The use of plastic pipes in construction can contribute to a substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. A University of Toronto report estimates that replacing old pipes with hydraulically efficient plastic pipes could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 10 per cent of Canada’s reduction obligation under the Kyoto protocol. The use of plastic house wraps for a single typical house provides a savings of approximately 215 to 1,100 litres of oil – or around 8 to 40 cubic metres of natural gas – annually. Vinyl sidings and windows help cut energy consumption and lower heating and cooling bills. The same principles apply in appliances, such as refrigerators and air conditioners. Plastic parts and insulation have helped to improve their energy efficiency by 30 to 50 per cent since the early 1970’s. Again, this energy savings helps reduce your electric and cooling bills. And appliances run more quietly than earlier designs that used other materials. In reality, only four per cent of Canada’s national oil and gas is used to produce plastics. That four per cent goes a long way.