Fast facts on plastics and energy

Performance plastics and single-use plastics both offer advantages in terms of energy savings. Here are a few examples:

  • Performance plastics help conserve resources. Using lightweight, durable, formable performance plastics, manufacturers can minimize raw materials used, energy consumed and waste generated.
  • Performance plastics save energy. Only about 4 percent of U.S. total energy consumption goes into the creation of plastic products, and it often takes less energy to convert plastics from a raw material into a finished product than comparable products made of other materials.
  • 53 billion kilowatt hours of electricity are saved annually by improvements in major appliance energy made possible by performance plastic applications. Without the benefits provided by plastics insulation, these appliances would use up to 30 percent more energy.
  • Over the lifetime of the average car, performance plastic parts save 650 gallons of gas as a result of their lighter weight.
  • During their life cycle, plastic bags require about one-third less energy to make than paper bags.
  • Foam polystyrene containers take 30 percent less total energy to make than paperboard containers.
  • Without plastics, the energy used to produce packaging would double. By using plastics rather than its alternatives, American manufacturers save more than 330 Btu. This is a difference equivalent to 58 million barrels of oil, 325 billion cubic feet of natural gas or 32 billion pounds of coal.
  • Plastics are lighter than many alternative materials. They have consistently reduced the weight of truck payloads and allowed companies to ship more product in fewer trucks — saving energy. For instance, 2.8 million plastic grocery bags can be delivered in one truck; the same truck can hold only 500,000 paper grocery bags.
  • The energy saved by recycling a one gallon plastic milk jug will keep a 100 watt bulb burning for 11 hours.
  • By using plastics in their packaging, product manufacturers save enough energy every year to power a city of 1 million homes for 3-1/2 years.

Fast facts on plastics in the waste stream:

  • Without plastics, the total volume of packaging waste would increase by around 160 percent.
  • Because plastics are lightweight, durable and versatile, manufacturers can minimize the material used and the waste generated by using plastic products and packaging.
  • Without performance plastics’ resistance to corrosion, the product life of some major appliances would be reduced by nearly 40 percent. By helping them last longer, plastics keep appliances and other durable goods out of the waste stream.
  • You could carry home 1,000 ounces of soda in 2 pounds of plastic packaging, but it would take 27 pounds of glass, 8 pounds of steel and 3 pounds of aluminum to do the same job.
  • It takes 4.3 lbs. of glass to package one gallon of milk or juice, but less than 1/4 lb. of plastic to do the same job.
  • Many plastics can be recycled. Hundreds of quality products made with or packaged in post-consumer recycled plastic now are commercially available. Two soft drink bottles can make a baseball cap, when recycled into polyester fiber. And artificial lumber made of recycled plastic is used in sea walls, fence posts and park benches. Plastic bags and stretch wrap are finding their way into decking material that is unsurpassed for its durability. It does not decay or crack, resists damage from termites and ants and requires no protective sealants.
  • Plastic packaging, which makes up less than 6 percent (by weight) of discarded products in the municipal waste stream, can be disposed of safely in landfills.
  • When incinerated, plastics — with their high energy content — help the entire mix to burn more efficiently, enhancing waste-to-energy conversion and leaving less ash.