Be Proud of our Plastics Industry
The plastics industry is achieving record-breaking environmental targets and is one of the biggest contributors to the UK’s industrial growth, yet the public’s perception and appreciation of plastics remains extremely low.
Plastics manufacturing companies, like ourselves, are finding that we’re still defending our industry against high levels of scrutiny, rather than celebrating the major contribution plastics make to society; it’s time for the public’s attitude towards plastics to change.
Record-breaking plastics recycling
The PVC sector is a good example of a plastics industry that has not only taken major steps to address waste management but is successfully achieving its recycling targets.
Just over a decade ago, PVC was dismissed as an unrecyclable material and was subject to a lot of negative media coverage. The plastics industry responded to this criticism by launching Vinyl 2010, later renamed VinylPlus – the first ever sustainable development programme – which set out to change the public’s perception of PVC waste by bringing together resin manufacturers, additive producers and converters in a united pledge to achieve challenging PVC recycling targets.
Through Recovinyl – VinylPlus’ PVC recycling scheme – PVC recycling has continued to grow across Europe, with the UK contributing more than 20 per cent (or 88,648 tonnes) to the total 435,083 tonnes waste PVC recycled last year across its 16 European member countries.
Waste PVC-U profiles comprised more than 50 per cent – an enormous 50,421 tonnes – of the UK’s PVC recycling effort in 2013, with pipes, rigid and flexible PVC films and cables making up the rest.
Recycling aside, we should also be proud of the continual innovations our industry is witnessing. Plastics companies have invested billions of pounds in developing products that are stronger, lighter and more energy efficient. Take the pallet industry, for example. Plastic pallet manufacturers are now making lightweight nestable pallets that not only rival traditional timber pallets in price per unit, but also help reduce freight costs and lower carbon footprint, since they nest inside each other, saving considerable space in transit.
Plastics manufacturing was also recently cited as one of the four key contributors to the UK’s growth in industrial output, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), alongside transport equipment, electronic products and rubber.
Furthermore, UK manufacturing activity continues to expand with June marking its fastest growth in seven months. The Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) jumped to 57.5 in June from 57.0 in May – the highest level since November and well above the 50 line that divides growth and contraction.
Plastics in transport
The use of plastics in the automotive, aerospace, rail and marine sectors has risen dramatically as modern transport systems have evolved to meet demands for safety, environmental protection and speed.
Much of the focus has been on producing lighter-weight vehicles to help reduce fuel consumption. The lightness of plastics makes them invaluable for manufacturing cars, caravans, aeroplanes, trains and boats.
Today the average car contains around 11 per cent plastics, in comparison to just 8.5 per cent in the 1980s. Using 100kg of plastics in a car can replace between 200-300kg of traditional materials, which over the average lifespan of a vehicle can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 750 litres.
The increased use of plastics in aerospace has helped the industry create lighter, more aerodynamic products that are also more durable to withstand wear and tear from heavy use. Approximately 22 per cent of the Airbus A380 (the world’s largest commercial aircraft) is built from carbon reinforced plastics, which has helped reduce the fuel burn to a rate comparable to that of an economical family car!
Although the UK has made significant strides in plastics recycling in recent years, when compared to other EU countries, such as Sweden, Denmark and Germany, we’re still throwing away far too many plastic products when they could be reused.
An estimated 9.6 million tonnes of plastic waste is going to landfill in Europe every year, an amount representing 100 million barrels of oil or just under £7bn. This is a huge waste of a valuable resource and both businesses and consumers should be looking to recycle more of their plastic waste.
A voice for plastics
Condale Plastics makes every effort to ensure that it minimises its impact on the environment through the rigorous application of its environmental policy. All process waste is granulated and either re-used or sold for reprocessing. Energy consumption is minimised through the use of ac drives on motors, intelligent lighting systems and through the selection of new equipment based upon its environmental merits.
As a company, we have another reason to be proud of plastics this year, as we celebrate 45 years of manufacturing plastic extrusions.