When creating plastic products, there are a plethora of factors that can sway the product development process. For some, choices are solely based on the way a product will look. For others, it’s linked to the product’s specific performance features. However, in recent years, many decisions are being shaped by a product’s material composition and ultimate impact on the environment. This is especially true for plastic products. That’s why top brands and manufacturers are determined to make significant progress in creating products that help address plastic waste, alongside campaigns that encourage reuse.
Here are 3 important considerations for creating plastic products in 2022:
1. Product Lifecycle and Its Environmental Impact
Climate change has been a problem for decades, and as its effects come closer to home, consumer habits are changing, with a stronger focus on waste reduction and reducing carbon footprint. This brings forth the question of product durability and the environmental impact a product can have over its lifetime.
Given government requirements to reduce carbon emissions, how much energy has been used in the manufacture, use, and disposal/recycling of the product are all factors consumers are considering when making purchases.
Whilst the answer may be somewhat complex, plastics are generally lighter and more durable than alternative materials which in turn, reduces the overall weight of the product (meaning lower levels of energy use and carbon emissions). The use of plastics in transportation, for example, creates lighter, safer, and more fuel-efficient modes of transportation. From safety features like seatbelts and airbags to structural elements, plastics are used extensively throughout the cars, trains, and planes we see and use today.
Plastic products could even be considered a better option when it comes to smaller items. A study published in The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment identified that glass baby food jars produce 25% more greenhouse gasses than plastic pot packaging. Therefore, switching to alternative materials to improve recycling initiatives may undermine efforts to reduce carbon footprint.
Rather than focusing on the environmental impact at the end of a product's life cycle, manufacturers seeking to fight climate change should consider a plastic product's whole life cycle and then compare this with material alternatives to make an educated decision.
2. Required Strength and Durability
When it comes to making a plastic product, think about how your customers will mostly be using it to better understand how hardwearing and easy-to-care-for it needs to be.
Whether it’s an item of clothing or a simple kitchen gadget, every product has advantages and disadvantages unique to its functionality and buyer preferences. For example, new parents looking for child-proof bowls will need something resilient for regular use, cleaning, and the occasional drop. And unless it's part of the product design, durability and longevity are common factors in the majority of buying decisions.
This is where plastic as a material can excel in its respective applications.
There are 50 main types of plastic and generally speaking, all are strong and long-lasting, with the ability to resist damage. Thermoplastics are the most commonly used plastic and include ABS, Acrylic, Nylon, and Polyester. Easily reheated and moulded into shape, thermoplastics can be used in a variety of manufacturing techniques accounting for its widespread use and popularity.
The stronger and more durable a product is, the less likely it is to break and end up as waste.
3. Built-In Antimicrobial Features
One sure way to tackle plastic pollution is to encourage consumers to continually reuse plastic products for longer. This is a particular challenge for things like food packaging, which is a prime hotspot for bacterial growth, staining, and degradation, as well as for high-touch plastic products, such as office telephone handsets, medical carts, and even airport security trays. Large consumer goods companies are now encouraging zero-waste by providing refillable packaging options for products, such as detergent and shampoo. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, these bottles are rarely cleaned, allowing them to succumb to the growth of bacteria and mould.
Built-in antimicrobial technology actively prevents microbial growth on plastic products. The proven formulations can be incorporated into plastic products at the stage of manufacture, becoming an integral component of the material and providing ongoing protection that works for the expected lifetime of the product.
By protecting materials from microbes, antimicrobial technology reassures consumers of the cleanliness of plastic products and helps prevent biodegradation to keep that fresh product feeling for longer and avoid premature disposal. It also strengthens your sustainability messaging.
How Does Antimicrobial Technology Work in Plastic Products?
Polymer Phone Case Example
Remember, Plastic Isn’t Always the Enemy!
Key points to note:
- Glass baby food jars produce 25% more greenhouse gasses than plastic pots.
- Plastic is up to 12 times stronger than steel, making cars lighter and more fuel-efficient.
- Plastic packaging helps extend the shelf-life of food, reducing food waste - which means less food in landfills and less greenhouse gas produced.
- The use of 1.5g of plastic film for wrapping a cucumber can extend its shelf from 3 days to 14 days.
- Polymer banknotes are overtaking paper currency, allowing for enhanced security features and increased durability.
- Plastic products can last for a long time if they are designed with the right materials and technologies, such as built-in antimicrobial protection.
Source: Thisisplastics.com / Examining Material Evidence The Carbon Footprint, Imperial College London
As one of the world’s most versatile materials, plastic brings a multitude of benefits to modern-day life including medical advances, product innovations, and much more. A change in consumer behavior regarding plastic products is needed to address waste challenges, minimise plastic pollution, and promote a circular economy. This combined with a shift in focus to product design and life cycle is also necessary.
For your next product development project, be sure to keep the three considerations we have discussed in mind.