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How is Plastic Manufacturing Becoming Greener?
Making the move to green practices is a crucial move for many industries, and plastic manufacturing is no different. As consumers make it more and more clear that sustainability is something they’ll pay for, companies that refuse to answer the call will be left behind. Read on to learn how plastic manufacturing is becoming greener.
The Impact of Unsustainable Plastics
When manufacturers convert raw plastic into usable parts, there are a quite a few unfortunate side effects. Because plastic is so ubiquitous in society, vast quantities of plastic are created, shaped, and thrown away daily.
Fossil Fuel Use
Even as sustainability becomes more of a factor in plastic manufacturing, the vast majority of manufacturers are still using unsustainable methods to create plastics. Over 90 percent of single-use plastics are made with fossil fuels. As we all know, fossil fuels are anything but sustainable—the more we draw oil for plastic, the more we deplete the natural resources of the planet.
Using fossil fuels for plastic also ensures that plastics will be damaging to the environment at the start and end of their lives. It takes significant greenhouse gases to create plastic resin, and chemicals and toxins are introduced to the environment when these plastics break down.
Without conscious thought devoted to reducing the energy required to make plastics, huge amounts of energy are required to propagate the plastic industry. While electricity can be sourced sustainably (like from solar or wind farms), the plastic industry also uses oil and gas in energy production. These processes create greenhouse gases and are notoriously unsustainable.
Although plastic recycling is more prevalent than ever, another 90 percent of plastics go unrecycled. Most plastics are not biodegradable, which means that oceans and landfills will be clogged with plastic for thousands of years if we don’t do something.
The Push for Sustainability
In the last decade or two, sustainability and “green” products have come into high demand. Regardless of the debate surrounding environmental concerns, consumers show a significant interest in eco-friendly products and services. In addition to sustainable products being great for the environment, they’re also crucial to companies hoping to maintain their bottom line.
Many industries that couldn’t imagine a sustainable version of their product were forced to find a way to incorporate eco-friendliness into their business or put up the shutters.
Consumers and Sustainability
While governmental regulation is a factor in sustainability, consumer demand is a much bigger component. Most consumers, when surveyed, would rather purchase a sustainable product than one that does clear damage to the environment. In the last several years, consumers have become more interested in the materials used to make a product as well as the manufacturing process.
In 2022, it’s not as much about “going green” to stand out from the competition as it is “going green” to keep up.
However, it is essential to remember that, while consumers want sustainable products, they don’t necessarily want to pay more for them. Consumers also don’t want to sacrifice quality for eco-friendliness, meaning that you must carefully consider how you tackle sustainability. If your sustainable plastic means that a consumer needs to pay more for the same thing, you may not see a boost in sales.
A crucial factor to keep in mind is that there is no single definition for a “sustainable” product. For that reason, it’s important to understand what customers view as sustainability so your business can match that expectation. With that said, let’s look at a few key terms that customers look for when shopping for products.
Many companies talk about reducing their “carbon footprint.” This term simply refers to the impact a company has on the environment through the greenhouse gases emitted through the lifespan of a given product.
Like the word “sustainability,” “bioplastics” refer to a range of materials with different applications and properties. For instance, a bioplastic could be biodegradable, biobased, or both.
While unsustainable plastics will break down over time, biodegradable plastics cut that time down exponentially. Simply put, biodegradable plastics can be converted into natural substances much more quickly than traditional plastics.
Biobased materials are exactly what they sound like—materials made from organic materials. Instead of using fossil carbon, these materials use renewable carbon as their main structure. If the USDA Biopreferred Program certifies your materials as biobased, you can receive benefits such as preferential purchasing from government agencies.
Biocomposite materials are a combination of sustainable biomaterials like hemp, starch, or wood with traditional plastic. This compromise reduces the non-renewable plastic needed to create products.
Many people have heard about compost—essentially, compostable materials are biodegradable and rated to break down over a certain period. In addition, compostable materials cannot leave toxic residue in the soil. It’s important to note that the international standards regarding compostable products (ASTM standards 6400 and 6868) generally refer to packaging rather than durable products.
As you probably know, plastic recycling refers to the recovery and reprocessing of scrap or waste plastic. This could result in plastics returning to their original state or a complete repurposing.
Benefits of Sustainable Plastics
The most readily apparent benefit of sustainable plastics is the reduced environmental impact. Because plastics are so abundant, there is a lot of positive change that can come with eco-friendly changes. In addition, using certain materials as biocomposites can positively impact other sectors as well. For instance, using agricultural byproducts can raise the value of crops for farmers.
On top of that, choosing to use compostable materials may encourage your consumers to start composting. This process is also good for the environment, and the more awareness you raise about sustainability, the better.
Biomaterials can also improve the quality of your plastics, as many biocomposites have increased strength, durability, and stiffness.
Moving Forward with Sustainable Plastics
Today, bioplastics are a small but important part of the plastics market, making their way into everything from food containers to plastic end caps. Bioplastics are a brilliant way to set yourself apart from the competition and break new ground, potentially garnering huge sales in the process.
Now that you know how plastic manufacturing is becoming greener, be a part of the change you want to see. Modify your own practices and support businesses with sustainable goals.
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