It’s clear there can be some downsides and negative effects to the use of plastic.
However, there can also be a number of ways that plastic benefits society, the environment and the economy.
In this guide, we outline some of these key benefits.
Summary – How Plastic Benefits Society, The Environment & The Economy
Plastic can be a highly versatile material that comes in a number of different types of plastic.
It can be durable, waterproof, tear proof, flexible, lightweight, and have a number of other traits and properties.
It’s these practical and physical traits and properties that give plastic the practical benefits that can lead to plastic being used for many of the key uses across society that it currently is.
Other materials may not be able to offer some of the traits or benefits that plastic can at all, or at least in the same affordable or effective matter (depending on the activity the material is used for)
There’s a number of ways that plastic can potentially provide environmental benefits.
One example is plastic packaging material – the light weight of plastic and packing efficiency can lead to greater fuel efficiency and packing efficiency, which leads to more efficient use of fuel for, and less emissions.
Another example is that plastic may have a lower energy footprint and carbon footprint during production compared to some metals – aluminum and stainless steel might be two examples of this
Another example is that plastic can help with food freshness and reduce food waste and loss, which. Food waste and loss has an environmental impact associated with it
On a more micro level, the cheap cost of plastic to produce, and the cost savings it can help deliver in various ways can make things more affordable and profitable for businesses, and more affordable for consumers too.
Plastic can protect human health in a number of ways, such as with safety and hygiene of food, the safety and sterilisation of medical instruments and equipment, and also sexually with the use of contraception like condoms.
Improving How We Use & Manage Plastic
Even with the above benefits in mind – the way in which we use and manage plastic can be improved
The Benefits Of Plastic In Society, The Economy, & To The Environment
Potential practical benefits are listed by different sources below:
Plastic helps us do more with less [such as being able to] deliver more beverage with less resources than other materials
Plastic is continuously re-engineered to become lighter and more efficient – so it’s likely plastic in the future will help us save more resources
According to new research – ‘Polymer plastic solar cells can be more efficient and have more stability … [and, they are] light weight, [flexible, and cost effective] (futurity.org)
… plastic grocery bags … take up one-seventh of the space paper bags do in landfills …
… incinerated plastic helps the waste mix burn more efficiently [at waste to energy plants]
Farmers can use plastic sheets for drip irrigation, which allows better control over soil nutrients and moisture [however, much of this plastic ends up in land fill, contributes to pesticide run off into freshwater sources, and has other plastic related issues]
… plastic reduces a products’ weight, and provides an inexpensive alternative to natural materials like cellulose or cotton
Polyethylene can be produced using relatively inexpensive natural gas … and is so light in density, and resists damage by water, air, grease, cleaning solvents.
But, is robust enough that packaging made from them won’t deform in a delivery truck sitting in the sun all day.
… the automotive sector uses increasing amounts of thermoplastics, primarily to reduce weight and hence achieve greater fuel efficiency standards.
The synthetic fiber industry [which includes plastic based fibres] has seen dramatic growth for clothing and carpeting, thanks to interest in special properties like stretch, moisture-wicking and breathability
Potential environmental benefits are listed by different sources below:
Plastic can be an environmentally friendly, low-cost alternative to other products …
… plastic grocery bags … don’t produce toxic fumes when incinerated
Plastic automobile parts have made lighter cars that consume less fossil fuel [and therefore there will be less emissions and less pollution on a per mile basis]
Over 70 million tons of thermoplastics per year are used in textiles, mostly clothing and carpeting [and] This saves land and other natural resources and inputs compared to using cotton and wool (theconversation.com)
If there was no plastics packaging available and other materials were used, the overall packaging consumption of packaging mass, energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would increase
Plastic packaging makes a positive contribution to saving resources …
Plastic packaging production uses about half as much energy as alternative materials
Plastic is light and strong – this means we use fewer vehicles and less fuel to transport it (means less usage of fossil fuels and less vehicle emissions).
[Plastic] can reduce fuel and oil consumption (in transport – 80% of a product’s energy consumption comes after the production and manufacturing phase), can reduce energy use and GHGs compared to plastic alternatives …
Plastic helps us minimise packaging, and decrease waste … [and also] decreases transport energy
Plastic is highly reusable [and] The ways in which we can recycle plastic are always improving
Plastic saves a huge food waste footprint by helping us waste less food (via food packaging)
Food waste has a huge environmental footprint in CO2, water and land use – think about how many resources agriculture and manufacturing uses
[The impact of less food waste due to the use of plastic leads to] deforestation, fertiliser use or vehicle emissions (theconversation.com)
Although other materials in landfills can break down and generate greenhouse gases like methane and CO2, plastic does not contribute to these emissions [as it is not an organic material] (ourworldindata.org)
Farmers [in some countries like India are being encouraged] to collect tomatoes in plastic crates instead of big sacks; they squish and rot less – yet another example of plastic preserving food quality and preventing food waste
Potential social benefits are listed by different sources below:
[Plastic contributes to food freshness, food hygiene and safety, food protection, and reduces food waste] (bpf.co.uk)
Pre-packed fruit and vegetables enable some disabled people to access fresh food (theconversation.com)
Condoms are critical for contraception and the prevention of STDs, and they contain polyurethane (a type of plastic)
Important Uses Of Plastic
Practically, plastic benefits us in society with the sheer number of uses we can get out of it
Some of these uses are critical to the functioning of society, and/or the quality of our lives
Some examples we included in the guide above – such as plastic packaging used to keep food fresh and hygienic.