What Is Plastic Used For In Society, & What Sectors Use & Waste The Most Plastic?

You hear about plastic a lot, and sometimes about it’s potential list of pros and cons as a material.

But, what is plastic used for in society exactly?

In this guide, we outline the sectors and industries that use the most plastic.


Summary – What Is Plastic Used For In Society?

What Is Plastic Used For?

Plastic is used for many uses across almost every industry in society.

There’s too many uses to name individually, but some industries responsible for the most plastic production are packaging, construction, and textiles.


Sectors That Use & Waste The Most Plastic

Plastics in the packaging industry are the most produced plastics in society, and it makes sense this is where a lot of the waste is.

We use plastic packaging for a range of things, with a major example being in the food and beverage industry.

An important distinction though needs to be made between sectors that use a lot of plastic, and sectors that generate a lot of plastic waste.

If we take the Construction industry for example – it uses a lot of plastic, but produces much less plastic waste as the plastics it uses aren’t the single use type, but mainly plastics with decades of usage lifespan i.e. plastics might be used for 30 years before becoming waste.

Packaging on the other hand is known for a lot of single use plastics which means a high plastic waste rate also.

Ourworldindata.org has a chart which illustrates this – https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/mean-product-lifetime-plastic 


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 and hygienic.


Some of the other important uses of plastic in society are:

Common Plastics:

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


Car parts

Fridge liners


Plumbing pipes

Wire insulation

Other construction materials and parts


Specialist Plastics:

Contact lenses




Composite materials

Medical equipment and devices

+ more

Read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic (under the ‘Types’ section


You can also read more about how the different types of plastic are used individually in this guide.


Sectors That Use The Most Plastic

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%

– theconversation.com


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

– 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

– ourworldindata.org


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

This guide outlines some of the other important uses and benefits of plastic in society.



1. https://theconversation.com/the-world-of-plastics-in-numbers-100291

2. https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution 

3. https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/mean-product-lifetime-plastic

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/ways-in-which-plastic-benefits-society-the-environment-the-economy/

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-types-of-plastic-how-many-there-are-what-they-are-most-commonly-produced-what-they-are-used-for-which-types-can-be-recycled-more/

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