Publication / 27 Jul 2016

Plastics and Sustainability

Trucost and the American Chemistry Council demonstrate how businesses can use plastic more sustainably.

Plastics have delivered many benefits for society. Plastic packaged food lasts longer, reducing wastage. Use of plastic in pipes facilitates clean drinking water supplies, while plastic enables life-saving medical devices such as surgical equipment and drips. Due to its light weight, plastic use in vehicles has reduced carbon dioxide emissions from transport.

However, as the use of plastic in modern society has increased, so too have the environmental impacts associated with its production and disposal. Trucost research for UNEP in 2014 highlighted the environmental costs of plastic use in consumer products, including emissions of greenhouse gases, air, land and water pollutants, depletion of water and the production of marine debris in the global oceans. These environmental costs have prompted some to argue that plastics should be replaced with alternative materials, which may present fewer environmental challenges. However, recent studies by Franklin Associates (2013) and Denkstatt (2011), which modeled the substitution of plastic with alternative materials (such as paper, steel, aluminum and glass), suggest that a move away from plastics may come at an even higher net environmental cost.

This study seeks to build upon this research using Trucost’s natural capital valuation framework to value the environmental costs of plastic and its alternatives, and consider how more sustainable practices could help reduce the environmental costs of plastic use in the consumer products sector.

 

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