Plastics 101

Safety & Benefits Myth vs. Fact

Plastics are a versatile, cost-effective material that enriches our lives and have essential applications in nearly all industries. They make airplanes lighter, cars more fuel-efficient, medical equipment sterile, and keep food fresher. The fact is, plastics make our lives better, healthier, and safer every day.

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“Plastic products are low-quality.”


FACT: Plastics are a durable material ideal for a variety of applications.

Plastics require less energy to produce and transport, but that does not translate to low-quality. In fact, plastics are highly-engineered materials that deliver significant savings directly to consumers because they are more affordable than alternatives. A great example of this low-cost, durable product design is the marvel of science that is the plastic bag—weighing only about 5 grams, but capable of holding up to 17 pounds.

 

The molecular building blocks of plastics allow for customization of its properties to make it flexible enough to cover a food bowl or tough enough to withstand the heat and stress of a rocket launch or strong enough to carry our groceries. When necessary, plastics can be made as strong as steel by a polymerization process that joins long-chain molecules together. The same process produces soft mailable plastics for children’s dolls and toys.

 

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Plastics are toxic.”


FACT: Plastics aren’t toxic — they’re safe. 

Plastics aren’t toxic—they’re safe and inert, meaning they do not chemically react to other substances, even caustic or acidic ones. The versatility of plastic in their use and design flexibility over a range of operating temperatures, ductility, corrosion resistance, bio-inertness, high thermal/electrical insulation, non-toxicity and outstanding durability at a relatively low lifetime cost offer an advantage when compared with competing materials like glass and rubber. This makes plastics best suited for a range of healthcare applications such as saline and blood bags, IV lines, oxygen masks, and syringes. Plastics are also a key material in personal protective equipment like gloves, face shields, and gowns used to provide a barrier between germs and frontline health care workers and patients.

 

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“Plastic packaging is harmful to food.”


FACT: Plastic used in food packaging and production is safe, increases the shelf life and safety of foods, and reduces food waste.

Plastic’s important role in reducing food waste and aiding in food security and safety is often overlooked. Food-safe plastic provides an impermeable material that is lightweight and durable, while helping to extend the shelf life and preserve the texture, flavor, and nutrients of produce and other foods. The complexity of the global food supply chain means food often travels further from the source to the table than in any point prior in human history. Plastics are a large part of ensuring those foods are preserved for longer and are not contaminated in transport or retail. The plastics used in food packaging are safe and nontoxic.

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“Plastics do not support sustainability.”


FACT: Plastics contribute to sustainability in a number of important ways, but most people don’t know it.

Cars made with plastic components are lighter, require less fuel to run and ultimately reduce emissions. Because of its incredible strength-to-weight ratio, modern plastics make up 50 percent of a car’s volume, but only account for 10 percent of the weight. When a car has reached the end of its useful life, plastic components can also be recycled and reused, helping with waste reduction.

 

As in cars, plastic improves energy consumption in the home as a component used in most common home appliances. For example, polyurethane foam makes up the thermal insulation of refrigerators and freezers. This foam, a form of plastic, improves cooling and reduces energy consumption while keeping food fresh for longer.  The insulation present in refrigerators is the largest performance factor taken into account to achieve ENERGY STAR® certification, a coveted energy efficiency indicator for manufactures and consumers alike.

 

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“Goods made from recycled plastics are weaker and pose health hazards.”


FACT: Recycled plastic offers many of the same benefits as virgin plastic. 

A recent study by Yale University published at the Journal of Consumer Research shows that consumers are less likely to buy environmentally conscious recycled products because they assume companies “diverted resources from product quality” resulting in an inferior item. Recycled plastic retains the strength and characteristics of virgin plastic and its application can be seen in products such as shoes, chairs, and park benches.

 

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Plastics are not viable construction materials.

 


 

FACT: Plastics are a crucial component in the longevity of construction.

Plastics have a wide range of applications in construction and building because they are durable, strong, lightweight, waterproof, design flexible and recyclable. Building materials are expected to last the lifetime of a project, which often spans several decades without replacement or modification. PVC flooring and pipes in home projects can last more than 20 and 60 years, respectively, reducing the need for frequent replacement. Plastic insulation can improve the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce CO2 emissions, and has been shown to be effective on a broad range of sustainability factors.

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