Plastic has found its way into every single corner of our lives. In your home, at work, or in your car you are surrounded by plastics. Even the clothes you are wearing right now may contain plastic. If you are taken ill and go to hospital, the equipment that makes you better is likely to be made of plastic. If you have recently received a COVID jab it came from a plastic syringe held by a nurse wearing a plastic mask.
The point is, that a world without plastics is literally unimaginable. Not only does plastic form part of an incredibly wide range of products, it also literally saves lives. Modern life as we understand it simply would not be possible without the widespread use of plastic.
Plastics Come at a Price
But, as programmes like Blue Planet, have shown us, humankind’s reliance on plastic also comes at a cost.
The environmental impacts of plastic are increasingly an issue of worldwide concern for the public and politicians. Just as plastic has made its way into every area of our lives, it has also found its way into every corner of the planet, – from our oceans and rivers, to the very air that we breath. Because plastic generally does not naturally decompose, it can last for centuries in landfill. This means that today’s products may leave a legacy that your grandchildren are left to deal with.
Is Plastic Always Bad for the Environment?
Whilst there are undoubtedly some very real negative environmental consequences of plastic use, the picture is more complicated than it initially appears. We hear a great deal about how bad plastics are for the environment, but is important to remember that there are significant environmental benefits that plastics deliver too.
For instance, using lighter plastic components in cars and aeroplanes reduces weight and delivers a fuel saving, leading to lower CO2 emissions over a lifetime of use. Similarly, packaging made from plastic is much lighter, cutting down on the environmental costs of production and transportation. Plastic packaging keeps food fresh for longer, – reducing methane production and food wastage.
Responsible Plastic Use
We know with certainty that the future cannot, and will not, be plastic free. Therefore, the focus needs to be on understanding the ways to make and use plastics more safely, a drive to recycle more material, and a gradual replacement of the most damaging materials and products with safer alternatives.
As one the UK’s leading plastic injection moulding companies, ENL is already extremely active in this area. We recently wrote about the steps we are taking to make our manufacturing processes more sustainable. Driving up the use of recycled material, shortening supply chains, and improving design and manufacture can all help mitigate the negative environmental impact of plastics.
Know Your Plastics
At ENL, we firmly believe that responsible design and manufacture can play a critical role in helping to address some of the problems that are associated with the use of plastic. It is also important that the wider debate about the use of plastics is informed by a deeper understanding of the different sorts of plastics that exist, and the costs/benefits of their use.
Single Use Plastics
A lot of the focus in discussions of plastics is quite rightly on what are known as ‘single use plastics.’ As the name suggests, these are the plastics contained in disposable products which are used once then discarded. The government has already taken steps to legislate to lessen the use of single use plastics – for instance introducing a mandatory charge for single-use plastic bags in supermarkets. There is also now a ban in place on the use of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and plastic stemmed cotton buds.
The scale at which these products were being used was enormous – in England alone we were using a massive 4.7 billion plastic straws each year. At a stroke, government has now stopped those straws finding their way into landfill, or end up polluting our oceans. That has to be a good thing for the environment.
People often refer to ‘recyclable plastics’ and ‘non-recyclable plastics’, but it is actually the case that almost all plastics can technically be recycled. The challenge is, that for some plastics, such as Polyvinyl Chloride or Polypropylene, the technical difficulty and cost of recycling is currently a major barrier to their reuse. As we move forward into a greener future, there must be a drive to reduce costs of recycling for all plastics, making it more straightforward for consumers and manufacturers alike.
It is also worth remembering that we have already shown how the industry can change. Over the last 20 years, there has been incredible progress, particularly around the most widely recycled plastics – the sort used for drinks bottles and milk containers (PET and high-density polyethylene). For instance, according to the latest data, 77% of plastic bottles are recycled. This shows what can be achieved when there is an infrastructure in place for recycling, and when consumers and manufacturers work together.
The future will not be plastic free. Not only does the world depend on plastic products, but the alternatives to plastic would bring a whole new set of environmental challenges to address.
What the future does hold, however, is increased consumer awareness around the use of plastic, and technical innovations to make recycling more widespread and efficient. At ENL, we want a world where plastic is used safely, responsibly, and in a way that works for future generations as well as for the current one.
We will continue to innovate and learn within our own business, to improve our own performance, and be part of building a brighter plastics future.
About ENL Group
ENL Group is based in Portsmouth, UK and Veľké Kostoľany, Slovakia. Established in 1958, we have been servicing UK-based and European companies for decades. Working with a secure supply chain, ENL provides quality components for quality-driven customers – with full certification for all of our products and quality checking at every stage.
Operating 24/7, we design, manufacture and deliver critical components for our customers across the UK and Europe.
Contact Us for more information about ENL and how we can help your business.