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Polymer Packaging as an Environmental Benefactor

May 27th, 1996

Paper to the Polymer Processing Society 12th Annual Meeting, Sorrento, Italy, 27th-31st May 1996, paper 10-9.

S F Bush with J D Tonkin


Too often, when attacked as wasteful of natural resources and a cause of litter, the polymer industry adopts a defensive stance, seeking to show that plastics usage, in particular plastics packaging, is not as bad as it is painted. Those who work for the polymer industry may know themselves that the charges are generally unfounded. However it is clear from the recent example of the Brent Spar that even the largest of the world’s oil and chemical companies can feel forced by environmental groups using inaccurate data, to abandon a course of action which had actually been calculated to be in the best interests of the environment.

In fact the science and engineering underpinning the polymer industry is a major environmental benefactor, but to show this it is important to consider the relevant total system. To bound the problem in a short paper, we will concentrate on packaging in the food system, noting that while packaging at about 40% is the largest single category of polymer use, it accounts for 1.6% only of oil usage in Western countries.