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Why Plastic is the Sustainable Choice for your Business

Written by MS
16/11/2020 12:00:09

In recent weeks, our blogs have dived into a range of plastic machining topics. We’ve outlined how plastic parts and components can be created to suit the demands of your business, and we have explored a variety of engineering and fabrication methods, including CNC machining and Plastic Injection Moulding. To take a look at any of these blogs, click here.
 
Now, if you’re still not convinced that plastics are the right material for your business, then keep reading this blog! Today we’re going to focus on why plastic is the sustainable answer to your business’s needs. We will explore how plastic manufacturing produces fewer emissions than metal alternatives. So, if you’re an industry leader or business owner with green fingers or are simply looking for your company to play its role in the battle against climate change, read on. 
 
In this blog, we will discuss what ‘sustainability’ really means and how we can assess this concerning the materials we use. We will also look at a variety of instances where plastics are the most sustainable option in certain sectors and examine why this is the case. Whether you are an expert on zero-waste manufacturing or a newbie to the whole subject, we hope you can learn something for this article. 
 
The Three Pillars of Sustainability:
 
‘Sustainability’ and ‘sustainable’ have become buzzwords in the manufacturing industry over the last 20-30 years. As we have all become more environmentally conscious, and efforts are being made globally to reduce our carbon footprint, these two terms have been thrown around a lot in common discourse. 
 
For something to be truly sustainable it must be assessed within three categories:
 
  • How environmentally sustainable it is
  • How economically sustainable it is 
  • How socially sustainable it is
 
Unless a material, product, etc., can be described as ‘sustainable’ in each of these three settings, it is not truly beneficial to our planet. For instance, a product might be made via a zero-waste process but, as a result, the process itself is extremely expensive. In this case, the product may be environmentally sustainable but not economically sustainable (or even viable).
 
Plastics can be considered as a sustainable material. Plastics are fairly cheap to manufacture and buy, and are a major export of the UK, making them beneficial to our economy. Plastic fabrication also requires less energy than the manufacturing of other materials (ie. steel), and they can widely be recycled. Furthermore, plastics are also accessible to all peoples. In short, plastic meets the criteria of all three pillars of sustainability. 
 
Key Uses of Plastic:
 
Packaging: Plastics outperform virtually all other materials when it comes to packaging. This is because they are lightweight and offer excellent protection to any product or food items. 
 
Construction: You will see plastic in any building you enter. Materials such as PVC are particularly important in construction as they provide the pipework for plumbing. 
 
Automotive: Plastic parts are in almost every type of vehicle: cars, trains, and planes all function in part due to plastic innovation. 
 
Environmental Sustainability:
 
Not many people know that plastics only account for some 4% of the world’s oil production and many experts also view plastics as a material that ‘borrows oil’ as they can be recycled into new products, or incinerated to recover the energy used to manufacture them. 
 
Plastics are largely recycled via two methods: mechanical recycling and chemical recycling. The mechanical method is one that has been used for the last century and involves cutting plastics into tiny pieces before reforming them. The chemical process is more expensive, but allows you to create a wider range of products with recycled plastics. You can read all about the differences between these methods of recycling and their benefits in a previous blog. Click here.
 
Economic Sustainability: 
 
Plastics are a big player in the UK economy. There are thought to be over 7,400 plastic companies in the UK with an annual turnover of approximately £17+ billion. On top of this, the UK is a world-leading exporter of plastic products, with a total value of over £4.5 billion in exports per year. 
 
On a micro level, plastics continue to play an important role. Plastics are cost-effective to produce due to mass production methods such as plastic injection moulding. As they are typically lightweight, plastics generally cost less to transport than other materials too. Plastics also require less maintenance than other materials (ie. metals) and so lead to less expensive downtime or need for repairs. 
 
Experts are consistently working to improve plastics and plastic additives. As they do, plastics become more sustainable as innovation leads to greater levels of recyclability and a wider range of potential uses. 
 
Social Sustainability: 
 
In the last section, we looked at how many plastic companies operate in the UK, and between them, these businesses provide jobs to over 180,000 people in our country - from a wide range of diverse backgrounds. Plastic fabrication is a highly technical job, developing workers’ skills. 
 
Plastic materials make a sizable contribution in terms of health and safety too. They are used as shock absorbers in cars, for instance, and have several uses in the medical field, such as for syringes or in the manufacturing of ventilators, which is particularly important amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
So, there you have it, a look into why plastic materials are a sustainable choice for your business and how, over time, they will only become more sustainable! Plastics adhere to all three pillars of sustainability and provide life-saving and life-changing services in the world - we simply could not live without them! 
 
If you are convinced to make the switch to plastic in your business, check out a previous blog of ours on how we manufacture precise and optimal plastic parts and components. Click here. 
 
At Barkston Ltd., we service a whole range of SMEs, OEMs and other businesses in several sectors including energy, healthcare, food & drink, chemical processing, automotive & transport, and nuclear. Get in touch today if you think we can help your business, email: service@barkstonltd.co.uk
 
 
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