Promoting Sustainability in Plastic Manufacturing
As things currently stand, plastic is generally considered one of the most unsustainable substances on the planet. Made from petroleum and other fossil fuels, these substances take hundreds of years to decompose. In many cases, they break down into microplastics that make their way into the food chain and prove impossible to filter from drinking water.
In light of that negative reputation, the plastic manufacturing industry needs to initiate changes to make the entire sector — as well as the product itself — more sustainable. What can we do to promote sustainability in plastic manufacturing?
Transitioning to Bioplastics
The technology to make the switch to bioplastics — plastic made from organic materials rather than petroleum — is already available. The problem isn’t the technology. It’s the willingness to adopt it.
Making bioplastic is more challenging than creating petrochemical-based plastics because it requires large-scale fermentation facilities to create the necessary base material. This is something that many plastic manufacturing facilities simply don’t have enough room to build.
Transitioning to bioplastics is one of the best ways to make plastic manufacturing more sustainable, but in order to adopt it, we first need to make the technology more accessible for the average manufacturer.
Improving Plastic Recycling
We were raised on the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” But when it comes to the last part, the entire system is broken.
A majority of the plastics set aside for recycling never actually makes it into new products. Not all plastic can be recycled, and what does make it to the recycling facilities often gets contaminated by foodstuffs or other materials that mean the entire batch gets discarded.
Additionally, China handled more than half the world’s recyclables until 2018, when the country banned the importation of plastics. Much of the supposedly recycled plastic actually ended up in landfills and in the ocean off the Chinese coast.
Sustainability in the plastic manufacturing industry is contingent on improved plastic recycling practices and greater international cooperation across the world.
Reducing Waste in Manufacturing
Waste is a problem in nearly every industry, and plastic manufacturing is no exception. Making the plastic manufacturing industry more sustainable starts with lean manufacturing and its tenets for reducing waste.
Lean manufacturing takes its ideology from the reduction of waste in all its forms, from preventing overstocking and wasted space to improving productivity and efficiency in workflows. Even if companies don’t decide to go fully lean, adopting some of the properties of this manufacturing style can help make the entire industry more sustainable.
Taking Steps Toward Green Energy
Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is one of the most important tools for making plastic manufacturing more sustainable. On average, industry in the United States accounts for around 22% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Power usage contributes to that as well, since none of it would be possible without electricity generated by burning fossil fuels.
Switching to solar or wind energy — or other green and sustainable energy alternatives, depending on what’s available in your area — can help reduce the industry’s carbon footprint as a whole. Sustainable energy is becoming more affordable every year, making it more accessible for companies around the globe that are interested in making their production a little more eco-friendly.
Making Plastic More Sustainable
Plastic has a well-deserved negative reputation for being unsustainable. But there’s no reason to leave it that way. A few steps in the right direction can help turn the entire plastic manufacturing industry into an environmentally-friendly system.
Recycling, green energy, lean manufacturing, and beginning to utilize bioplastics can all help change the world for the better.
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