Plastics 101

Future of Plastics: Plastics Can Help Create a More Equitable World

Plastic is a versatile, lightweight, and affordable material that helps to ensure all have equal access to life changing innovations.

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For those with disabilities, new technologies and developments can be life changing. New products now help with hearing and visual impairments and can also provide mobility options for those with physical disabilities. Although there is much thought, research, and time spent on these incredible innovations, without the materials that are used to manufacture hearing aids, prosthetics, and microchips, equality and access for those with disabilities would be further from reach. 

One material these products all have in common is plastics. Plastic is a versatile, lightweight, and affordable material that helps to ensure all have equal access to life changing innovations. 

Single-use plastics close the gap

Plastics are so versatile that they can be used to produce anything, from a delicate stint for a heart artery to a strong and durable knee joint – and that’s not all.

Items such as pill packaging, gloves, straws, band aids, wipes, and syringes all help people with disabilities get the care and tools they need to live in a society that is not built around their specific needs.  In a recent social media post, Sarah Todd Hammer, a disability advocate and three-time published author, partnered with Disability Together to educate the public on why “single-use products are necessary” for people who are disabled for greater accessibility and to maintain independence. In their Instagram series, they explained the importance of single-use plastics in medical products, food products and daily products. As they explained:

“Single use products help disabled people with independence and activities of daily living, such as cleaning and hygiene. They allow disabled people to easily and readily complete desired tasks without added maintenance or costs. Single-use plastic products are disposable, clean, non-porous, inexpensive, and often more accessible than other materials.”

Plastics enable life-changing inventions

Plastics are a ubiquitous material that is used in a number of inventions to create more equal opportunities for all. For those with disabilities, global companies are relying on plastics to ensure that their products are available to everyone. 

In February 2021 Nike released their GO FlyEase shoe, the company’s first ever hands-free shoes. The design has a hinge, made from plastic, that holds the shoe in a steady, open position and closes when the wearer steps into it. Nike says the “FlyEase is driven by a design ethos that champions value of a suite of systems that work toward a common goal: making shoes easier for everyone.” Without plastics the production of this new equality driven shoe would not have been possible. Plastic components make the shoe lighter and more durable, but most importantly increases accessibility and equality. The use of plastics not only makes the GO FlyEase more affordable; it also allows those with mobility impairments and disabilities to dress and go about their day more easily. 

Additionally, plastic is an essential material in tools that help wheelchair users live independently, such as the QuadTools design. Marketed as “the original grab-it-yourself tools for quadriplegics”, the device helps people in a wheelchair reach high cabinets or grab items, even if the user does not have grip or finger movement. This gives the user independence they would not have otherwise. Without the use of plastics, this tool would be much more expensive and not nearly as lightweight. 

Companies like Nike and QuadTools are showing that new designs and innovations, supported by plastics, are reducing inequalities for those with disabilities. This is the future of plastics. 

New products keep plastics inside our economy

While these life-changing and saving innovations sometimes utilize single-use plastics, industry is working to ensure that none of these products end up in a landfill or our environment. Many companies are using discarded single-use plastics to make new products that will continue to help consumers and reduce inequalities across the globe. 

Adidas has paired with Parley Ocean Plastic to create high-performance clothing made from recycled materials. Each piece of clothing is made from upcycled plastic waste intercepted from remote islands, beaches, coastal communities, and shorelines, preventing it from polluting our oceans. Adidas and Parley see “the ocean as the most important ecosystem in our planet” and are trying to bring awareness to both the beauty and fragility of our oceans. In doing so, they brought together scientists, architects, designers, and product inventors to help create what started as a running shoe and turned it into an entire clothing line from upcycled plastic materials. 

Conclusion

These necessities and inventions demonstrate how plastics are bringing our world closer together. Whether through tools that help people with disabilities live independently or contributing to inventions that help to form a circular economy, plastics are creating a more equitable future for all.

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