introduction In this report I will be investigating the plastic industry. Thisanalysis will be done using life cycle analysis: cradle to grave.
This reportwill outline a set of DESIGNrecommendations for improving the efficiency with which plastic resourcesare used throughout its life cycle.Plastics is a broad term referring to a wide variety of productsacross a range of different industries worldwide. Plastics have a chemical propertiessuch as conduction, Heat malleability and resistant to wreathing which allowfor a wide range of applications across a spectrum of industries worldwide. Polyethylene(PE) commonly known as petroleum plastic or polymers is the material that isused throughout the plastic industry globallyThe chemical content of polymers is what gives it its unique usageability throughout industry.
Polymers tend to be made mostly of carbon witheach polymer having a repetitive sequence of molecules which are known asmonomers (NDT, 2013). This unique chemical composition gives plastic theability to withhold large volumes whilst at the same time being very durableand flexible. Soon after Bakelite a number of other Synthetic polymers werecreated with the ones largley being used in the modern economy being:Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Low DensityPolyethylene (LDPE), Polypropylene(PP) and Polystyrene (PS) (Mercola,2013). There are numerous applications when it comes to this rawmaterial thus allowing plastics to be used across a variety of Sectors theseinclude: Packaging, construction, materials, automotive, electronics,agriculture and the medical industry (Plastics Europe, 2016).
The main drawback to do with plastics and the plastic industryalso one of plastics greatest strengths: its ability to be very durable.Plastics can have a lifespan for up to a 500 years. (Goecopure, 2017) and are not degradable bymicroorganisms and oxygen, therefore their structure remains intact forextended periods of time.
Even when plastic does start to degrade it canrelease harmful toxins such as Dioxins, Mercury and Furans (Verma et al, 2016) whichcause environmental pollution and thus contributing to climate change as wellas harming the local environments ecosystem.Plastics have now become a symbol of unsustainability in themodern age as it continues to cause destruction at each point in its lifecycle. Plastics are now everincreasingly having an effect on the earth and its oceans with their productionand usage increasing very rapidly in the past 60 years figure one shows therapid expansion of plastics from 50MT of plastic produced to 322MT in 2015(Statista, 2015).There is currently a very large problem when it comes to plasticdisposal as there are currently only two methods that are primarily used toofficially dispose of them. The first of these methods is incineration however thisreleases copious amounts of harmful toxins into the air. The other method usedglobally is placing the plastic into a landfill. A final method which is usedunofficially is the dumping of plastics into the ocean it is estimated thatthere is 5 trillion pieces of plastic debris within our ocean (Parker, 2015).
From the5 trillion pieces of debris the majority of it (80%) comes from humanconsumption on land, which then is polluted into rivers which eventually endsup in the ocean (Ryan etal, 2009). The Plastic has some astonishing statistics which show theseriousness of the situation in regards to the plastic industry’s unsustainabletrajectory. It has been estimated that since its conception in human historysynthetic plastics account for around 6300 Megatons that has been created. Outof this 6200 MT ofwaste only 8% (500MT) has been recycled and reused. In addition to this 10-12%was incinerated (630MT). The remainingamount (5170MT) was discarded into landfills or has been lost into our humanenvironment as plastic pollution (Geyer et al, 2017). The current trajectory of syntheticplastics is very unsustainable , if the waste continues to grow at its currentrate without any major changes taking place to the life cycle of plastics thenit has been estimated that around10,000 MT of plastic will be in the human environment or in landfills by 2050(Geyer et al, 2017).
Life cycle of PlasticsCradle to grave analysis is used in order to investigate theplastic industry and identify a set of suitable design recommendations. Hereeach part of the life cycle is analysed from its resource extraction phase (thecradle) to its refinery stage from there to its transportation and usage stage,to there the limited re-usage and finally the disposal stage (grave). This approach has been taken so that each stage of the lifecycle can be assessed to identify any recommendations and improvements that canbe taken to help make the plastic industry’s model change from cradle to graveinto a cradle to cradle approach with a sustainable circular loop occurring (Figure2) to help tackle the problems of plastic pollution and environmental damage,whilst promoting sustainable behaviour patterns. I will be mainly by looking atselected plastic products which account for the majority of the plasticindustry. The selected plastic products are going to be plastic packagingplastic bags and plastic bottles.
The first step in the life cycle ofa plastic product is the extraction. The primary ingredient which is used tomake plastic products is crude oil and natural gas (EIA, 2017). Due toexcessive demand for plastic products I.E plastic bags a large amount of oiland natural gas is needed globally. Figure three shows the oil requirements forthe 7 different types of plastic products with PVC (0.2KG per 1kg of plasticproduced) having the lowest mount of oil content and PMMA (1.
2KG) having thelargest (Extruflex,2008). The second stage in the process is that of refining the oil ornatural gas in order to produce plastic pellets which are the foundation and buildingblocks of plastic materials. In order to produce the granules or pellets theoil is refined in a series of steps starting from heating the oil in order toproduce ethylenethis gas is then converted into polyethylene. This polyethylene is then cutinto Pellets which have now got a high density to them thus becoming HDPE (high density polyethylene). This is thenheated and moulded into plastic bags. This high density polyethylene is notjust used to create plastic carrier bags but many other plastic products forexample plastic pipelines, plastic bottles and plastic food containers.
Plastics are produced Plastics are produced almost equally acrossthe globe, with 2013 statistics showing that China has the majority of theproduction (24.8%) Europe is close behind with 20% and the Americas having19.4% with the rest of Asia at 16.4% (Figure five). Figure six shows the energyconsumption for each type of plastic type used to make plastic bags, it alsoshows how much waste each type of plastic produces per bag giving an idea ofthe problem associated with the production of bags. Plastic products and materials are then disturbed around theglobe from these places with the majority ending up in a variety of sectorsfigure fives gives shows how the plastics are split up into different industriesacross Europe. Once the plastic bags have been distributed into locations.They are handed out are products of convince to customers.
In the usage of plastic bags shows its majorproblem, they are often just used on one occasion for example after a shoppingtrip and then thrown away. In the USA alone there is around 100 Billion plasticbags used annually to which 75% are sent to landfills (LeBlanc,2017)There have been a number of schemes by governments to discourage the usageof plastic bags and to encourage the re-usage of bags. For example the UK nowapplying a mandatory 5p charge for each plastic bag in order to change thebehaviour patterns of consumers. As outlined in the introduction plastics are only eligibleto take two directions when it comes to disposal. The most popular direction that plastics aredisposed of is in landfills. With around 80% of all of the worlds producedplastic (6.3 Billion MT) ending up in a landfill (Parker, 2017).The second direction that plastics take is incineration.
Incineration takes place due to economic and geographical reasons. The economicreasoning behind incineration is that it cost more to recycle and reuse oldplastic products than to produce new ones. Furthermore due to lack of space inlandfills incineration is the best option as it works out more cost effectivethan compressing and storing plastic products in there. There are some advantages to incineration in the long term incomparison to landfills. The main one being that overall by incineratingcertain plastics it will produce less Co2 emissions than storing the plastic ina landfill were it get degraded slowly however releases more C02 emissions overthe course of its 500 year degradation (Erikson and Finnveden, 2009).
The final stage of the product life cycle is the recyclingand reuse stage, here plastic products are not disposed of in a landfill orincinerated instead the polymers which are eligible and meet the criteria get recycled. At current most plastics havethe capability to get recycled however in most cases it is not economicalenough to reuse the product, instead it is cheaper to manufacture the plasticfrom the cradle again.The recycling rate for plastics in Europe was 26% in 2012 (Plastics Europe, 2013),in comparison to the global figures the recycling rate stood at 9% (Geyer et al, 2017).
There are a number of techniques in whichplastics can get recycled. The maintechnique used at the moment is to melt the plastic so that it can go back to afeedstock state. Once back in itsoriginal feedstock state it can be reused in any plastic application dependingon its purity. One of the major drawbacks to this would be that each time theplastic has been used its purity level decreases therefore the only option isto incinerate or dispose of it in a landfill once it reaches a purity level inwhich it cannot be reworked again. Recommendations for resource efficiency and reduced wasteThere are a number of design recommendations in regards tothe product life cycle of plastic products which will help enable reducedwastage of plastics globally and increased recourse efficiency of plasticsused. Bio-PlasticsOne of the best possible solutions and design recommendationavailable at the moment to the plastic industry crisis is the increased usageand replacement of plastics with Bio plastics. Bioplastics have a number ofadvantages over conventional plastics and allow for a more sustainable approachto the life cycle.
Bioplastics are defined as plastics or polymers which areproduced from renewable sources. Common examples of sources of bioplasticsinclude corn, starch, vegetable fats and oils (Chua et al, 1999). Bioplastics a similar ofmyriad of applications as conventional plastics. As a lot of bioplastics are used into thefood packaging industry and the disposable plastic industry too.
Bioplastics main advantage comes from the fact that they canbe degraded by micro bacteria under the correct conditions. There are manytypes of bioplastics which can even be decomposed into the soil so that compostcan be produced (Arikanand Ozsoy, 2015). This degrading cycle continues on until the plasticsare completely decomposed into carbon dioxide and water. There are however certain bioplastics whichhave not been designed to be degradable under the right conditions instead theyare designed so that they have a longer life cycle therefore allowingbioplastics to enter a number of industries were conventional plastic dominatesfor example the use in automobiles (European Bioplastics, 2016) Large multinational companies are now taking on bioplasticsin their production lines showing how bioplastics can help in a social andenvironmental way as well as providing economic benefits too.
They can help benefit the business byincreasing their reputation as a “Green or environmental friendly business.”One example of this is Coca-Cola’s new sustainability initiative called “Plantbottle packaging”. This sustainable packaging is Coca-Colas attempt tointroduce bioplastics onto its production line. Here instead of using bottlesthat are made of polyethylene terephthalate (conventional plastics) they use anatural sugars to produce up to 30% of the bottle (Coca Cola, 2017). Even though this is technology in its earlystages it is still providing a large number of advantages for Coca-Cola bydecreasing the carbon footprint associated with making plastic bottles and byallowing for the bottles to be recycled more easily allowing for a morecircular and sustainable life cycle. Government’s policy’sAnother design recommendation in regards to the plasticindustry would be the need for increased governmental regulation andlegislation in order to promote a move in paradigm to a more circular lifecycle of the plastic industry.
As governments are increasingly pushing for a moresustainable economies there have been international efforts through intra-nationalgovernment agreements for example the Paris agreement in 2015. There have also been various governmentsintroducing their own legislation in order to meet the targets set out onglobal agreement accords such as the Paris agreement. One example of this would be France. By introducing a ban ondisposable plastics such as cups cutlery and plates. This represents asignificant move in the removal of plastics from the economy. By forcingcompanies to adopt new supply chains which are dependent on plastics comingfrom renewable sources.
Another example would be China banning the Imports ofplastic waste into the country (Taylor, 2018), this encourages behaviouralchanges in the product life cycle of plastics as citizens of China have abigger incentive to recycle more plastics. The EUhas made strides towards changing the life cycle of plastics with the use ofregulations and directives. In an attempt to promote the circular economy theEU has put in programs worth 100 million euros on new technologies and has putin an ambitious target of having all plastic waste recycled by 2030 (Toplensky,2018)Another example of government policy or legislationattempting to tackle systematic issues within plastics life cycle would be theexample of both developed and developing countries now implementing themandatory charging plastic carrier bags. The UK in particular enacted this charge in October 2015 (Uk Government, 2015). A number of benefits were associated with thecharging of plastic bags.
Firstly it was estimated that around 7 billionplastic bags were given out by shops within the UK, with the majority of thesebags being used and disposed of within 30 minutes of going to the shop thuscausing major plastic pollution across the UK. The 5p charge promoted the reuseof bags and helped promote biodegradable bags. Statistics show that the numberof plastic bags given out by retailers in 2016 was around 1.2 billion bagsshowing a substantial decrease of by around 5.8 billion bags providing the UKwith decreased costs for litter clean ups as well as helping reduce the UK’sCarbon budget. Incineration: waste to energyThere are currently efforts underway tohelp find different and new applications for plastic waste. One of these newapplications is a scheme which allows plastic waste to converted into energywhen get incinerated.
Waste to energy Incineration works by goingthrough a waste combustion processes. Whereby there is two incineration tanks,the first tank is the primary tank where the plastic waste is converted intogas through a process called pyrolysis. Once the plastic has been convertedinto a gas form. The gas is then used to power a steam generator thus producingelectricity.There are many advantages to usingPlastic to energy.
The main advantage to this process is that Plastic energyonly uses materials that are not recyclable, therefore providing manyincentives for the reduction of landfills as the material in there can now beput to economic usage. Currently therelies around £200 billion worth of plastic energy sitting in landfills globally (PlasticEnergy, 2017). There are however various disadvantagesto Incineration as through incineration dangerous toxins are released into theatmosphere. Figures from the EU commission (2006) show that for every ton ofplastic waste that is incineration around ¼ of the end product is toxic ashcontaining various toxins and heavy metals which cannot be put back intolandfills.
ConclusionOverall, the Plastic Industry has the characteristics ofunsustainability, a linear life cycle and economy and high levels ofenvironmental damage and pollution globally. Therefore a new approach is neededin order to help move the global plastic industry from a linear closed cyclefrom cradle to grave to a more circular sustainable economy allowing plasticsto have a cradle to cradle life cycle. In order to facilitate a move to a cradle to cradle lifecycle, the design recommendations highlighted in the report such asBioplastics, government regulation and policy as well as encouraging newtechnologies such as waste to energy Incineration which allow a use afterdisposal of plastics. Other recommendations are highlighted here such as settingup design standards which can be used globally for plastic productsspecifically for plastic packaging. By setting up a globally recognised set ofdesign standards it will allow for new linkages to be created within the supplychain thus allowing for an increased recycling and therefore an increasedcircularity and efficiency to the plastic packaging industry.
Further recommendations include improvements on the gettingrecycled material from plastics. For example the removal additives in plasticproducts will help increase the amount of recycled plastics from 8% globally (Geyer et al,2017) to a much higher percentage as the purity of plastics will increaseallowing more recycled applications and helping move from plastics from thedisposal stage back into the usage stage. Plastics have become embedded into the global economy,therefore there are going to arise systemic issues within plastics which aregoing to be need an ever increasing urgency to change. The only way to do thisis through a circular and sustainable life cycle approach to plastics.
The industryhas a lot of room to grow with increased demand for plastics increasingannually. With the necessary triggers plastic has the potential to one ofpioneers in the upcoming global sustainable economy.