Moving Towards Greener Manufacturing
Our everyday use of plastic has become intrinsically linked to our need to stay safe over the course of the last year.
Wearing facemasks every day, using hand sanitizer stored in plastic bottles and a hyper awareness of hygiene encouraging us to buy products that are safely sealed in plastic packaging has all increased our use of plastics.
However, the issue of what happens to this plastic when we are finished using it still remains and manufacturers face a more informed than ever and eco-conscience marketplace. David Attenborough’s landmark ‘Blue Planet II’ documentaries brought the issue of plastics in our oceans to the forefront of people’s minds, and the extent of ocean pollution was starkly underlined by Victor Vescovo’s ground-breaking descent seven miles to the deepest part of the Pacific – the Mariana Trench – only to find that a plastic bag had already beaten him there. Globally, we produce in excess of 300 million tons of plastic every year, 50% of which is for single-use purposes (used just once but lasts for hundreds of years on the planet) – over 8 million tons is dumped into our oceans every year.
The world is taking action. Supermarkets, Sainsburys and Aldi have recently announced that they will both remove all plastic from its own brand teabags and replace it with eco-friendly materials. This will help prevent the use of around 16.2 tonnes of plastic annually. Other initiatives recently confirmed by Sainsbury’s include removing plastic from razors and yoghurt pot lids, as well as replacing toilet roll plastic wrapping with a paper alternative.
The polymer chemistry industry has also been taken action, with advancing research into the best way of recycling the plastics that we use everyday. It may surprise readers to learn that only 9% of all plastic ever made is recycled into new plastics due to the difficulty and complexity of the process. An alternative is to recycle these plastics back into oil. This process is called chemical recycling where all types of plastic are fed into an “infinite” recycling system that unmake plastics back into oil, so they can then be used to make plastic again. This process breaks plastics back down to their original chemical blocks which can then be used for fuels or to reincarnate new plastics. Using this process could mean that plastics can be infinitely recycled, with a conversion rate of more than 99% being able to be turned into a useful product.
Global events and resultant actions taken incite fluctuations to supply and demand throughout industries. In this case, manufacturers of plastic items will surely be affected by controls and subsequent reductions in demand, and to the same token opportunities will arise for others to supply alternatives. Take for example Huhtamaki, a packaging company who are investing £12m and creating 100 jobs in a new facility which will make paper straws for McDonald’s. Morrisons is set to roll out plastic-free fruit and veg areas across its stores, and drinks giant Diageo has announced it is removing plastic from multipacks of its Irish stout brand Guinness. Utilising resource in the most efficient way possible is essential to companies being able to have the bandwidth to implement green initiatives to keep up with consumer demand, through using LYNQ MES medical devices manufacturer Rocket Medical has been able to access new markets and achieve higher sales volumes than ever before.
It is clear that for manufacturing companies in the plastics and rubber industry that staying ahead of these ever developing market conditions is essential. It is more important than ever to be able manage resources (employees and machines) as effectively as possible to remain competitive in an ever-changing world. Through using an MES solution, such a LYNQ, manufacturers can uncover areas of savings throughout the manufacturing process that they can re-invest in green initiatives and more sustainable ways of working throughout their business.
This blog has been updated for 2021, originally based on this post from 2019