Using Materials More Efficiently
Because plastics are both strong and lightweight, they can help to dramatically cut back on the amount of material needed to make a product or package. Scientists and engineers often call this practice “source reduction.” It’s the principle that drives our ability to do more with less, and it’s important because starting with less material drives other environmental benefits throughout the life of a product or package.
For example, stronger, lighter packaging allows manufacturers to ship more product with less packaging material. This helps to reduce the number of trucks needed, the amount of fuel used, and related greenhouse gas emissions. And when less material is used to begin with, there is less material to recover after use.
So using less material in the first place can help lower energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste.
Picking up our packaging example above, a 2014 study showed that substituting a variety of common plastic packaging with non-plastics alternatives would increase the amount of packaging generated in the United States by 55 million tons (110 billion pounds) annually. And plastic packaging can dramatically extend food shelf life.
Putting it all together, plastics help to conserve a lot of resources and prevent a lot of waste.
Cars and vehicles are another area where plastics boost efficiency by lightening the load. Plastics and plastic composites are helping automakers to achieve dramatic weight savings in order to increase fuel efficiency. And looking ahead to 2025, when automakers have to meet the 54-5-miles-per-gallon CAFÉ standard, they will likely develop more innovative ways use plastics to meet this goal.