This Is Plastics: THE EDGE OF EQUITY IV: Plastics Make Consumer Products More Affordable, Accessible   


THE EDGE OF EQUITY IV: Plastics Make Consumer Products More Affordable, Accessible   

Learn how investment in advanced recycling is needed to shore up domestic plastic production and ensure access to affordable products.


Amidst record-high inflation, prices for everyday products, including food and home goods, are top of mind for American consumers. While plastics—a versatile, durable and valuable group of materials—have become even more critical to the designs of modern consumer products across the economy, this material also keeps many everyday goods affordable and accessible—especially in times of financial stress.

Consumer goods are more affordable by plastics

Below, we explore just a few of the thousands of consumer products where plastics provide relief to consumer wallets and make life as we know it possible—both sustainably and practically.  


Athletic equipment: Plastics have revolutionized athletics by making products safer and more financially accessible to all consumers. Early sports equipment—including helmets, golf balls and basketballs—was originally made from leather and was often too expensive for many players or families. Even today, leather basketballs can be as much as seven times more expensive than those made from synthetic plastic leather. Leather production also relies on livestock farming, which accounts for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. By utilizing plastics, modern day sports equipment has become more environmentally friendly and more durable while also increasing performance and affordability for athletes.  

Children’s toys: Plastic is the ideal material for children’s toys, particularly due to its durability and versatility. More importantly, toys made from plastics are more cost-effective to produce than traditional toys made from wood, which can mean lower retail prices for consumers. Plastic toys are also lighter than wooden toys, which means they reduce greenhouse gas emissions during transport from producer to store to consumer. Sustainable toymakers, like Greentoys, produce U.S.-made toys from recycled plastics, further advancing the nation’s recycling strategy by creating end markets for recycled materials and aligning with the Biden administration’s plan to shore up domestic manufacturing and supply chains.   

Personal Care Products and Clothing

Oral hygiene: Toothbrushes made from plastics are remarkably more affordable than alternatives made from materials like bamboo—a single bamboo toothbrush can be over 230 percent more expensive than a plastic one! Beyond affordability, plastic toothbrushes are sustainable and hygienic. Life cycle assessments (LCAs) have found that recycled plastic toothbrushes are the highest performers across every environmental impact outcome measure, like carbon footprint, examined in the study, and were the most environmentally sustainable option compared to alternatives like bamboo. The study also found that plastic toothbrushes harbor less bacteria than more porous, wooden alternatives. Plastic toothbrushes can also be manufactured domestically, while bamboo for alternative toothbrushes is often sourced from China, increasing transportation emissions when imported to the United States. To achieve clean, healthy teeth in the most sustainable and affordable way, consumers can look to plastics.

Footwear: From elegant dress shoes to high-performance athletic sneakers to everyday sandals and more, the footwear industry would not survive without plastics. In fact, nearly half of all footwear produced worldwide is made from rubber derived from plastic polymers. This material offers significant cost savings over alternatives like leather or textiles and reduces reliance on water-intensive cotton production and livestock farming processes. Footwear companies are also working to ensure that post-consumer plastics have healthy end-of-life destinations by feeding new markets for recycled plastics. Shoes made from plastics can be recycled into a rubber-like material perfect for children’s playgrounds and competition-level running tracks. Companies are also using recycled plastics to make more sustainable footwear: Adidas has sold over one million pairs of shoes made from recycled ocean plastic, utilizing about 11 plastic bottles per pair.   

Home Goods

Bedding and linens: Whether it be bedding or bath towels, plastics make quality home care products more accessible. For example, traditional down comforters made from goose or duck feathers can be over 300 percent more expensive than down-alternative comforters made from synthetic filling like polyester, and are also associated with animal cruelty issues. Synthetic filling is not only affordable but also provides an equally plush, high-quality experience for consumers. As an added bonus, synthetic filling’s hypoallergenic properties make it ideal for people who suffer from allergies. Bedding and linens made from synthetic fabrics are also helping the textile industry become more circular through products like Buffy’s Cloud Comforter, which uses recycled filling made from approximately 50 plastic bottles, ensuring plastic waste finds a second life as a new, valuable good.

Investing in advanced recycling systems helps address domestic supply chain concerns

Plastics are vital to the production and supply of these consumer goods and many more. In times of financial stress, consumers can count on plastics to make many everyday goods more affordable. These valuable materials are also more environmentally friendly than traditional alternatives. However, to ensure a circular economy for all products that rely on plastics, investments in recycling systems, both mechanical and advanced, must continue.

The plastics industry is working to bolster domestic plastic production, particularly amidst ongoing supply chain vulnerability and uncertainty, and create a more robust advanced recycling system to shore up critical supply chains. Under the Consumer Goods Forum Plastics Waste Coalition of Action, 16 companies outlined their shared vision for the development and implementation of chemical recycling processes, such as pyrolysis, in an April 2022 report. The report found that to adequately scale chemical recycling and meet volume demand it would require 60-70 new medium-sized chemical recycling plants.

This and many other large-scale development projects demonstrate the countless opportunities for meaningful collaboration between the public and private sectors to ensure that all industries that depend on plastics are capable of meeting market demand for daily consumer goods, while also supporting affordability and sustainability.

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