The very word ‘plastic’ attracts derision and negativity these days. Heralded as a material that has almost singlehandedly destroyed the planet, you forget the positive progress and innovations that have shaped the world as we know it today.

Without plastic, we wouldn’t have the medical miracles in reconstructive surgery that we see today, or the efficient forms of transportation, or the advances in agricultural technology. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to send man into space.

A more balanced view would be that we have a lot to be thankful for. Plastic, in its many forms has advanced our knowledge and capabilities to explore beyond our global borders, and for that we should be proud.

A Plastic negative impact on the environment

But as we have known and understood for centuries now, with progress comes a degree of destruction, and our initial understanding of plastics did not take into account its impact on the natural world. Being a material which can literally take hundreds of years to degrade, it contains chemicals that literally seep into the environment, destroying natural habitats, and poisoning the oceans and the earth, and breaking down into ever smaller particles that find their way into the food system.

Every different sector is rethinking its approach to its use of plastics. Reinvesting in recycling while keeping in mind the durability and performance of a product can help to reduce demand on natural raw materials.

A window on the future of uPVC recycling

The window and door industry is an example of how an entire industry sector can approach the negative issue of using plastic, address the issues head on, and find a solution that is not only helps ease the pressure on the industry, but also creates a wealth of new business opportunities. Many first and second generation uPVC windows are being ripped out and replaced with their the latest designs which have higher EPC ratings. Previously, this redundant windows will have ended up in landfills, where they would sit for decades upon decades, slowly leeching into the ground.

When fitted, a plastic window has a typical life span of about 30 to 40 years. The technology now exists whereby that one window can be recycled up to ten times without any loss to its overall integrity and performance. This means that one window can actually have a lifecycle of on average 350 years.

The logistics industry is also embracing the use of recycled plastic, opting for pallets that are manufactured using 100 per cent recycled plastic, which can themselves be put through a stringent break down process and reformed into plastic pellets that can once again be reformed into a fresh now pallet product without any loss to its overall integrity.

Education and awareness about Plastic

Consumers are significantly more aware of their individual use of plastics than they used to be. While there is still a long way to go, an individual’s use of plastic plays a crucial role in shaping the future. Some of the simplest initiatives have played a significant part. For example, in 2015 retailers in the UK added a small 5p fee on every single use plastic bag. As a result, the consumption of the bags dropped by a monumental 97 per cent, and generated hundreds of millions of pounds that have been reinvested into environmental causes.

And as part of this is the influence over the behaviour of consumers, who proactively want to use less plastics and are willing to put in the effort to do so for the good of the environment. From diligently separating out rubbish items that can be recycled, to remembering to take their own bags to the supermarket, to actively choosing recycled glass or plastic bottles, consumers are driving the changes in how our products are packaged and sold.

A collaborative approach

It is probably fair to say that this one issue around reducing the use of single use plastics, and implementing ways of using plastics more responsibly, is one area in which all sectors of society are in agreement. The impact is plastic pollution is not just felt on a local level, but globally, and for many years. Reports are coming through now about micro traces of plastics being found in the stomachs of fish, highlighting the insidious nature of plastic – it might eventually erode and break down in size, but its traces will remain with us for ever. 

Consequently, the collaborative approach between the business sector and government bodies, and the willingness of communities across the world to proactively change their habits and behaviours highlight to importance that is attached to the issue of plastic uses. While acknowledging the versatility and flexibility of the material, what it has taught us is that there is still a long way to go in terms of exploring plastic free alternatives.