Plastics’ contribution to reach our climate targets
Can plastics help us to reach net-zero 2050?
The journey to achieve net zero by 2050 is full of challenges and we constantly look for solutions to overcome them. Can plastics help us to reach this target? We believe, they can. BASF have always focused on creating plastic that is high quality, lightweight and high performance. This results in a much smaller carbon footprint both in its manufacturing and lifecycle than plastics’ often heavier and less efficient alternatives. The following examples highlight the surprising contributions plastics can make to reduce emissions.
The benefits of plastics, then and now
Innovations in manufacturing in the 1950s and 1960s allowed for plastic to become mass produced. This not only revolutionized our lifestyle but also drastically reduced our global carbon footprint in some areas. For example, milk was no longer delivered in glass bottles which require a lot of fuel to produce, thereby creating a much larger carbon footprint than its plastic replacement. Plastic is also shatter-proof, making it a durable and lightweight solution for storage and cost- and carbon-effective transportation.
Did you know that rotors used in wind turbines are made from plastic? The huge blades are made possible as they are made from durable lightweight thermoplastic foam composites.
BASF have always focussed on creating plastic that is high quality, lightweight and high performance. This results in a much smaller carbon footprint both in its manufacturing and lifecycle than plastics often heavier and less efficient alternatives.
Let's have a look at packaging: Plastic packaging has many positive properties. It is much lighter than its alternatives, which saves energy during transport. Plastic packaging makes food last longer. A polythene shrink wrapped cucumber lasts 15 days vs a loose one lasting only 9 days. This decreases its carbon footprint dramatically due to reduced food waste.
Modern medicine has also been immensely improved by plastic. For example, the introduction of plastic syringes in 1955. These innovations in plastic increased patients’ safety as the equipment became more sterile and prevented the spread of diseases.
The introduction of plastic components to medical instruments not only provides ease of use but also caters to people with metal allergies. They have benefited from hypoallergenic plastic alternatives. The plastic components in current pacemakers, joint replacement devices and stents have been life-saving. Plastic has changed the modern medical landscape and the innovations it has made possible have helped generations of people.
We might miss the benefits of plastics if we do not have a closer look at the whole production chain. When put into the context of make-use-recycle, plastics prove their sustainability.
Reduce food waste
The production of our food is responsible for 33% of the global greenhouse gas emissions and has an accordingly huge impact on our climate. Considering that one third of the food produced goes to waste, it is reasonable to assume that there is some potential to reduce the emissions in this sector – this reduction equals more than India’s total emissions. Clever packaging can have a significant impact on minimizing food waste and thereby lowering greenhouse gas emissions. A polythene shrink-wrapped cucumber, for instance, lasts six days longer than an unwrapped one. Clever packaging decreases the carbon footprint dramatically by a reduction of food waste.
But: What packaging is really needed? This can and should be answered based on facts: Life-cycle, health & safety assessments, and scientific findings should always determine what is needed to achieve the required functionality of packaging. The decision of no material at all, reusable plastic, single use plastic, or alternative materials should be guided by the calculation of material used vs. desired effect.
Less weight – less energy and fuel
The emissions of vehicles account for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The UN concludes in its emissions gap report that all new vehicles need to be electrified by 2035. Plastics are essential to achieve this rapid transformation. Consider the insulation of cables, wall boxes or the casing of batteries. Thus, as plastics are lightweight, a car that is 100 kg lighter consumes 5% less energy.
Save energy by insulation
Buildings account for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions when we take into account indirect emissions, like heating or cooling. Insulation of houses becomes more and more important. One kilogram of polyurethane emits 3.5 kg of CO2 in its production, yet it reduces 350 kg of emissions in its 50 years lifetime, assuming a stable primary energy mix used. Also styrene foams make a significant contribution to achieving the global targets for avoiding CO2 emissions in the building sector. Insulation of the building envelope in particular reduces greenhouse gas emissions through lower energy consumption for heating or cooling of homes.
Plastics: better than their reputation
The plastics value chain, including production and recovery, is responsible for 3.5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. At all stages of the lifecycle, we are on our way to optimize its contribution to net zero:
#ourplasticsjourney and its benefits
Delivering high-performance materials, expanding the lifespan, while saving resources
Providing solutions that enable resource efficiency thanks to its low weight, flexibility, durability and property variety
Creating value from plastic waste to make sure more plastics will find another life
Let’s embrace the circular economy and make most of plastics in a sustainable way.
We are working on solutions in every step of #ourplasticsjourney.