In this guide, we outline:
– What plastic is used for in society in general
– What sectors and industries use the most plastic
– What sectors and industries waste the most plastic
Summary – Uses For Plastic In Society, & Sectors & Industries That Use & Waste The Most Plastic
What Is Plastic Used For?
Plastic is one of the most commonly used materials in the world, and has many uses across almost every industry and sector in society
On an everyday basis, different types of plastic are used for key activities and uses such as:
– Energy generation (such as the plastic used for solar cells and attachments/bracings)
– Vehicles and transport
– Construction (pipes, cabling, etc.)
– Communications and data
– Food delivery and protection
– Clothing and textiles
– Various consumer goods
– Various business goods
– Plus other key uses
… plastic may even have secondary uses via up cycling or down cycling, or may even be able to be burnt as waste for energy, or be used in cement production
Because of the sheer number of uses of plastic, it’s unlikely that anyone living in a modern society could live a 100% plastic free life
Sectors That Use The Most Plastic
Some industries and sectors use a greater % share of all plastic produced than others.
Of all the plastic produced worldwide annually, plastic packaging as a sector/industry is responsible for using the greatest share of this plastic.
We use plastic packaging for a range of things, with a major example being for wrapping, protecting, storing and preserving food and drinks in the food and beverage industry.
The construction and textile industries also use a significant % share of all plastic produced, behind packaging.
Sectors Responsible For The Most Plastic Waste
An important distinction needs to be made between sectors that use a lot of plastic, and sectors that generate a lot of plastic waste.
Packaging is responsible for the most plastic waste on an annual basis, when looking at the total weight of plastic waste they produce each year.
Why Some Sectors & Industries Might Produce More Plastic Waste Than Others
One reason is that these industries use more plastic in the first place, and that naturally leads to more plastic waste being generated.
But, how the plastic is used also impact the plastic used vs plastic waste generated ratio for each industry.
There’s single use plastics which have a very short lifetime usage, which makes up a certain % of plastic packaging.
But, if we take the construction industry for example – it uses a lot of plastic, but produces much less plastic waste
The reason for this is that some of the plastics it uses are not single use, short lifespan plastics, but rather plastics that can be used for up to decades before becoming waste
Ourworldindata.org has a ‘Mean Plastic Product Lifetime’ chart which illustrates this
What Is Plastic Used For In Society?
Practically, plastic benefits us in society with the sheer number of uses we can get out of it (and how important some of these uses are).
For example, plastic packaging is used to keep food fresh, safe and hygienic.
Some of the other important uses of plastic in society are …
Fibers (e.g. used in clothing for synthetic fibres)
Personal care products (e.g. toothbrushes)
Fishing line and fishing equipment
Low strength machine parts
Glasses and lenses
Security panels and security shields
For food and beverage packaging
Other construction materials and parts
Medical equipment and devices
Read more at in the wikipedia.org resource under the ‘Types’ section
[Plastic is used for packaging]
Polyurethanes, an entire family of related polymers, are widely used in foam insulation for homes and appliances, as well as in architectural coatings.
… the automotive sector uses increasing amounts of thermoplastics, primarily to reduce weight and hence achieve greater fuel efficiency standards.
Over 70 million tons of thermoplastics per year are used in textiles, mostly clothing and carpeting.
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
Plastic waste can be incinerated for energy (but there are air pollution concerns with some waste to energy plants/facilities)
Plastic waste can be used as a fuel in cement kilns
You can also read more about how the different types of plastic are used individually in this guide.
Sectors That Use The Most Plastic
Some sectors and industries use a greater % of all plastic produced, or use a greater amount of plastic (in total weight of plastic used) than others.
In 2015, plastic produced went to these sectors of society:
Packaging – 35.9%
Building & Construction – 16%
Textiles – 14.5%
Other – 11.5%
Consumer & Institutional Products – 10.3%
Transportation – 6.6%
Electrical/Electronic – 4.4%
Industrial/Machinery – 0.7%
Plastic production by sector in 2015, measured in tonnes per year, was:
Packaging – 146 million tonnes
Building & Construction – 65 million tonnes
Other sectors – 59 million tonnes
Textiles – 47 million tonnes
Consumer & Institutional Products – 42 million tonnes
Transportation – 27 million tonnes
Electrical/Electronic – 18 million tonnes
Industrial Machinery – 3 million tonnes
You can view a graph that details plastic production by polymer type at ourworldindata.org
Sectors That Produce The Most Plastic Waste
Global plastic waste generation in 2015, measured in tonnes per year, was:
Packaging – 141 million tonnes
Other sectors – 42 million tonnes
Textiles – 38 million tonnes
Consumer & Institutional Products – 37 million tonnes
Transportation – 17 million tonnes
Electrical/Electronic – 13 million tonnes
Building & Construction – 13 million tonnes
Industrial Machinery – 1 million tonnes
As mentioned above, plastics that are short term/single use plastics contribute to a higher waste rate.
If you look at littering rates and data for rivers, land, beaches and oceans, plastic features heavily.
Other Important Everyday Uses & Benefits Of Plastic In Society