New research suggests that replacing conventional plastics with emerging sustainable alternatives could provide significant benefits for companies and save billions of pounds worldwide.
According to a paper published by London-headquartered consultancy, Trucost, using sustainable plastic could avoid $3.5 billion (£2.4 billion) in environmental costs worldwide every year in just the computer manufacturing, footwear and soft drinks industries alone.
Similar savings could also be made in other industries dependent on plastic for products and packaging.
Currently, huge volumes of virgin plastics are used for disposable packaging and products, causing significant environmental impacts.
If the strong growth in virgin plastic use continues, the paper estimates that the plastics sector will be responsible for a fifth of global oil consumption by 2050, more than triple current levels.
However, despite many barriers still existing, innovative alternatives such as biodegradable plastics, recycled materials and plant-based polymers are fast emerging as feasible replacements in many industries.
In the computer manufacturing sector, technology giant, Dell, is singled out as an emerging leader in its field.
The company’s OptiPlex 3030 computer is built with plastic recycled from its own take-back scheme. By 2020, Dell aims to recover nearly one million tonnes of end-of-use electronics through this closed-loop process.
Plant-based bioplastics also offer a solution for some industries. For example, innovative algae-based polymers can replace foam products used in footwear, luggage, toys, sports goods and packaging industries.
Switching to more sustainable plastics can reduce risks, such as protection from future fluctuations in oil prices, resource scarcity and government bans on plastic products such as plastic bags.
It can also demonstrate environmental commitment to customers, reduce carbon footprints and cut costs.
Guidance from UK resource charity, WRAP, suggests that some recycled polymers are already 10-20 per cent cheaper than conventional materials.
Many recycled polymers, including PP, PE, PET, HIPS and PCABS, can also be used in new products and packaging without compromising performance.
For more information on the business case for switching to sustainable plastics, click here.