When you work in the field of plastics, as those of us at Rainbow Polybag has for so many years, sometimes you lose track of the fact that you are living in a Golden Age for plastic materials.
As plastics get used for an increasingly large percentage of transportation sector components (in automobiles, trucks, trains, ships, and aircraft), huge amounts of fossil fuel gets saved on an annual basis. This is fuel that, before the switch to plastic components, would have been more or less mindlessly burned. Even light metals weigh dramatically more than the best modern plastics, and so every switch to a plastic component ends up having a positive impact on the world, one that continues for the life of that part.
Another way that plastics are truly enjoying their heyday: Recycling.
The numbers are incredible. In the U.S., 94 percent of us have access to recycling of the most common plastic bottles, jugs, and jars with caps. And nearly 75 percent have access to recycling for the bulk of other plastic bottles, jugs, and jars with caps.
The rate at which plastic bottles are recycled is climbing, too. And the good efforts here at home are rubbing off on our North American neighbors: Canada and Mexico’s percent of recycled plastic bottles is increasing dramatically. And the world’s largest food-grade recycling plant recently opened just west of Mexico City. That’s a big deal!
There are sectors in which our great country has probably seen its greatest heyday already. The U.S. railroad system comes to mind. But, as great as the railway system was at its absolute peak, plastics is having a similar moment today – with no end in sight! The sky is the limit! Actually, it’s not. Not even the sky can keep plastics down!
That’s because plastics are, as alluded to, literally in the sky, with air travel getting a huge boost from the lightweight, strong plastic materials being used for a wide variety of aviation uses. If all the components now made out of plastic had to be made from metal and other heavy materials, the cost of air travel would necessarily skyrocket – overnight!
And plastics rise higher in the sky than the relatively lowly level of commercial aviation, too! The international space station has thousands of uses of plastic, including the plastic tubing used for a variety of medical purposes, plastic bags for food waste, plastic furniture, electronic cords, padding, computer casing, and on and on.
If you told someone from the past, even a hundred years ago, all the things that plastics would make possible in the future, they wouldn’t have believed you. And who knows what miracles plastics will yield in the next 100 years?
It is truly a Golden Age.