Amy Hodgetts


Say the word “plastic” nowadays and people tend to assume something negative. From its perceived damage to the environment to concerns over where it ends up, plastic has become the new fossil fuels when it comes to environmental discussions. But just how bad is it really? To show you how plastics have also helped the environment, rapid prototyping specialists Omega Plastics have compiled this report to show you the vital other side.

Plastic: Past and Present
Recycling was not particularly high on anyone’s agenda prior to the 21stcentury. However, thanks to a continued push to go green, we are now more aware of the waste we produce. In 2001, just 12.5 percent of household waste in England was recycled. This figure climbed to 44.9 percent in 2014, and rose again to 45.2 percent in 2016, which is drawing closer to the EU’s target of 50 percent by 2020 target.

It is not just a change in attitude regarding environmental matters, but with plastic production too. Nowadays, companies actively look for recyclable plastics for their products and packaging, building an impressive corporate social responsibility to set them apart from their competitors. According to the British Plastics Federation, 32 percent of plastic is recycled and 70 percent is recovered. In the past, only certain types of plastics have been recycled. Now, as technology develops, recyclable plastics can be created, which serve the same purpose, but are more environmentally friendly.

A combination of plastic-improving technologies and this shift in attitude has meant that plastic has been developed with end-of-life waste very much in mind. In short, the impact has been reduced—plastic is not the same enemy as it has been in the past.

Plastic Production
By improving and refining the plastic production process, the effects of plastic production on the environment has changed. However, this is not just in terms of minimizing waste. Plastic injection molding is a popular manufacturing method as, through using molds, multiple plastic products can be created with precision. The process involves specialist machinery which, because the plastic needs to be melted, can consume a lot of energy. However, over the past 10 years, the machines have become more refined and now use between 20 percent and 50 percent less energy than they once did. This shows just one way in which the production of plastic has been altered to improve its effects on the world. The benefits are widespread.

Alternative Uses
One of the main uses for plastic in the UK is in packaging. While many may argue that this increased plastic consumption has a negative effect on the environment, it can actually prove beneficial in the long term. The motoring industry is a perfect example of this. Instead of using metal for the production of some parts, many car manufacturers are turning to polymers instead. Not only are these more affordable, they are lighter too, reducing the overall weight of the vehicle. This can have a positive impact on fuel efficiency and energy savings, minimizing the use of fuels in the future.

Plastic has also proven to be a useful building material. Through using plastics to create insulation and double glazing, we are able to conserve heat and prevent the non-essential warming of homes and businesses.

Then there is the switch in bank notes to polymer notes. The polymer £5 note, features Sir Winston Churchill. The polymer £10 note sports Jane Austen, and the upcoming polymer £20 set to be released in 2020 will bear the portrait of J. M. W. Turner. Of the currently released polymer notes, they are 15 percent smaller than their predecessors, making the production more energy efficient. They are also more environmentally friendly as they are far more durable than paper notes. According to The Carbon Trust, the polymer £5 has a 16 percent lower carbon footprint than its paper version.

With the right approach, plastic can be beneficial to the health of the environment. With increased technological advancements, plastics are set to become even more eco-friendly.

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