Plastics and sustainability

Manufacture in plastics has environmental and / or ethical impact.  Plastics contribute to sustainable design by, among other ways, saving energy but their long lifespan means that their use in products with short useful lives is problematic.  Irresponsible discarding of plastics generates pollution.  Consumers can chose which materials they purchase.  The avoidance of single use plastics has become common practice.


Enabling recycling

Consumers can identify the recyclability of a product by the presence of the resin identification code (recycling triangles) introduced in the late 1980s.  By using fewer materials or by making the product easy to dismantle, designers and manufacturers make it easier to recycle.  The use of recycled materials reduces the amount of new material required. Depending on the product, some virgin material is needed to provide additional strength.


Replacing animal products

In 1973, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was set up.  This organisation has made it illegal to trade in materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell.  This factor, along with costs, has meant that animal based materials in many instances have been almost totally replaced by their synthetic cousins.


Reducing waste

The main source of plastics today is crude oil.  They use 4% of global oil production.  Plastics’ manufacture uses less energy compared with traditional materials and the products are lighter.  For example, for the same amount of bags, it takes one lorry to deliver plastic and seven to deliver paper bags.  Plastics are often the materials of choice for reusable products; re-use saves energy consumption and prevents waste.


Ocean plastics

Littering is of huge environmental concern.  Plastics waste in the world’s oceans and waterways is a significant problem.  With many organisations working hard to remove this waste we must think about what happens to the material after it has been recovered.  The use of ocean plastics is a good thing but preventing the problem in the first place is a better solution.  This can be achieved by thinking in lifecycles including appropriate disposal procedures.