Plastics conserve energy in several ways that go unnoticed among the general populace.
The energy crisis in the world today is actually countered by the efficiency of plastics. If we had to use different materials in place of plastics, our manufacturing and logistical processes would need more fossil-fuel feedstock to sustain.
Plastics are used in a thousand industries, from lighting to cookware to fire-fighting gear to space suits. And in each of these industries, it offers an energy advantage, which is why its usage is so widespread.
For example, many of us know that LED lighting technology outperforms incandescent lighting in terms of operating lifespan. But it also takes less energy to manufacture the plastic bulb casing in LED lights than the glass bulb casing in the former.
In this post, we outline 5 less-known ways plastics conserve the planet’s energy.
A larger percentage of finished goods and perishables are packaged in plastics, be they punnets for farm produce, polystyrene foams for electronic products, or bubble-wrap for fragile crockery and glassware. Despite their abundance, they only make up a small percentage of the packaging’s weight.
When compared to plant-fibre cartons, metal casings, and glass casing, they are thinner and lighter and require less energy to manufacture. For example, you can reduce the weight of a wine bottle by 60-80% when switching from glass to plastics. The plastic bottle saves energy in manufacturing and reduces fuel use in transportation or increases the transported units per trip.
To keep refrigerator interiors cold, almost all modern refrigerators use layers of plastic foam sandwiched between moulded panels. This not only allows us to keep our food fresher for longer periods of time, but it also means refrigerators don’t have to use as much energy to stay cold, saving money on electricity bills. Insulation is the most important factor in achieving the energy-efficiency ratings that you see on refrigerators.
Most people spend enormous amounts of energy on air-conditioning in summer and heating in winter. The overworked HVAC systems run extravagant electricity bills. This can also be an issue in workplaces and industrial plants, where heat from the building’s interiors needs to be quickly dissipated to the outside.
With smart insulation practices married to energy-aware architects and builders, plastics insulation can create energy-efficient spaces. An assortment of plastic building components such as plastic foam, foam sealants, plexiglass, expanded polystyrene (EPS), caulks, coatings, and so on, improve a building’s ability to maintain thermal balance without influence from the weather outside. They would also require less energy to manufacture vis-a-vis stone, wood, and glass.
Many of the vehicles on today’s roads are largely plastic by volume, yet hardly plastic by weight. The lightweight nature of plastics creates vehicles with better fuel efficiency—heavier vehicles require more fuel consumption. Also, it entails less energy expended in manufacturing, and better standards in safety and design.
You can inspect a car to recognize the extent of plastics usage: from foam dashboards, to polyester seat belts, to the crash-tested plastic film between the window glass panes, to nylon air bags, to the bumpers. All these components define energy-efficiency in the product lifecycle.
Plastics used in greenhouses, ground film, and other plant propagation systems increase crop yield quality and quantity by conserving energy and protecting the crop in the plant’s growing environment. Yield increases of up to 70% have been achieved, as well as out-of-season crop production to meet consumer demand.
While it may seem surprising to the layman, plastics are vital to conserving precious energy while running the world. The more we inspect our own processes, the more we educate ourselves on how to reduce the needless expending of the resources required to build those processes from the ground up.