Across many applications, plastics are the material of choice before alternatives such as glass, tin, aluminum and paper, for a number of reasons like flexibility, weight and environmental impact. Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) showcase this versatility and the benefits that plastics represent, particularly with respect to reducing the environmental impact of creating and shipping vital products. In fact, research shows that plastic has an environmental footprint nearly four times less than that of traditionally used materials.
Broadly speaking, LCAs evaluate the potential environmental impact at stages throughout the entire life cycle of any given product. This includes extraction of raw materials, production, distribution, and use. This includes waste management, recycling, and reprocessing of a product.
By analyzing each step of the life of a product, LCAs incorporate both a macro and micro approach to assess the environmental impact of various materials, including plastic. As a result, LCAs are a powerful tool to inform consumer choice and strengthen our ability to meet climate goals through reducing emissions and waste.
Technical innovation and support for advanced recycling solutions, in tandem with robust mechanical recycling systems, enable consumers and businesses to use recycled and reimagined plastic items time after time. One LCA study found that recycling has the lowest environmental impact on global warming and total energy use.
Similarly, a report by BASF and Sphera, an ESG software company, found that advanced recycling of mixed plastic waste emits 50% less carbon dioxide when compared to waste incineration. This study also found that the manufacture of plastic via mechanical or advanced recycling from mixed plastic waste produces similar carbon dioxide emissions as virgin materials – meaning that plastics is helping Canada meet climate goals at every step of its life cycle. Mechanical and advanced recycling work together to bring us closer to a truly circular economy.
Ethane is used to produce plastic products, like detergent bottles, that can be broken back into ethane molecules through advanced recycling and reused to make new products.
Every day plastic manufactured items, like plastic grocery bags, foodware, straws, stir sticks, and more, can become new products with advanced recycling solutions, which convert plastic items back into their basic building blocks, fuels, and other products. Numerous companies are scaling up efforts to transform all types of plastics into new items ready for continued use.
One area plastics is making a huge difference is packaging. Plastics have lower environmental impacts than many other common packaging materials, like paperboard or glass – with a University of Michigan study concluding “plastic has been shown to be significantly better in terms of energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and multiple other environmental impact categories.”
Plastics already reduce emissions at every step of a product’s life cycle when compared to traditional materials. Increased investment in innovative recycling solutions will further allow us to expand recycling options, increasing the environmental benefits of plastics.