The Uses of Plastics
Whether you are aware of it or not, plastics play an important part in your life. Plastics' versatility allow it to be used in everything from car parts to doll parts, from soft drink bottles to the refrigerators they get stored in. From the car you drive to work in to the television you watch when you get home, plastics help make your life easier and better. So how is it that plastics have become so widely used? How did plastics become the material of choice for so many varied applications?
The simple answer is that plastics are the material that can provide the things consumers want and need. Plastics have the unique capability to be manufactured to meet very specific functional needs for consumers.
So maybe there's another question that's relevant: What do I want?
Regardless of how you answer this question, plastics can probably satisfy your needs.
If a product is made of plastic, there's a reason. And chances are the reason has everything to do with helping you, the consumer, get what you want: Health. Safety. Performance. Value. Plastics help make these things possible.
Just consider the changes we've seen in the grocery store in recent years: Plastic wrap helps keep meat fresh while protecting it from the poking and prodding fingers of your fellow shoppers. Plastic bottles mean you can actually lift an economy-size bottle of juice. And should you accidentally drop that bottle, it is shatter-resistant. In each case, plastics help make your life easier, healthier and safer.
Grocery Cart Vs. Dent-Resistant Body Panel
Plastics also help you get maximum value from some of the big-ticket items you buy. Plastics help make portable phones and computers that really are portable. They help major appliances - like refrigerators or dishwashers - resist corrosion, last longer and operate more efficiently. Plastic car fenders and body panels resist dings, so you can cruise the grocery store parking lot with confidence.
Modern packaging -- such as heat-sealed plastic pouches and wraps -- helps keep food fresh and free of contamination. That means the resources that went into producing that food aren't wasted. It's the same thing once you get the food home: plastic wraps and resealable containers keep your leftovers protected -- much to the chagrin of kids everywhere. In fact, packaging experts have estimated that each pound of plastic packaging can reduce up to 1.7 pounds of food waste.
Plastics can also help you bring home more product with less packaging. For example, just 2 pounds of plastic can deliver 1,000 ounces -- roughly 8 gallons -- of a beverage such as juice, soda or water. You'd need 3 pounds of aluminum to bring home the same amount, 8 pounds of steel or 27 pounds of glass. Not only do plastic bags require less total energy to produce than paper bags, they conserve fuel in shipping. It takes seven trucks to carry the same number of paper bags as fits in one truckload of plastic bags. Plastics make packaging more efficient, which ultimately conserves resources.
Plastics engineers are always working to do even more with less material. Since 1977, the 2-liter plastic soft drink bottle has gone from weighing 68 grams to just 51 grams today, representing a 25 percent reduction per bottle. That saves more than 206 million pounds of packaging each year. The 1-gallon plastic milk jug has undergone an even greater reduction, weighing 30 percent less than what it did 20 years ago. How many of us can say that?
Doing more with less helps conserve resources in another way. It helps save energy. In fact, plastics can play a significant role in energy conservation. Just look at the decision you're asked to make at the grocery store check-out: "Paper or plastic?"
Not only do plastic bags require less total energy to produce than paper bags, they conserve fuel in shipping. It takes five trucks to carry the same number of paper bags as fits in one truckload of plastic bags.
Plastics in Home Construction
Plastics also help to conserve energy in your home. Vinyl siding and windows help cut energy consumption and lower your heating and cooling bills. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that use of plastic foam insulation in homes and buildings each year will ultimately save nearly 60 million barrels of oil over other kinds of insulation.
The same principles apply in appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners. Plastic parts and insulation have helped to improve their energy efficiency by 30 to 50 percent since the early 1970s. Again, this energy savings helps reduce your electric and cooling bills. And appliances run more quietly than earlier designs that used other materials.