You hear about plastic a lot, but what is plastic used for in society exactly?
In this guide, we outline the sectors and industries that use the most plastic.
Summary – What Is Plastic Used For In Society?
What Is Plastic Used For?
Plastic is used for many uses across almost every industry in society.
There’s too many uses to name individually, but some industries responsible for the most plastic production are packaging, construction, and textiles.
Sectors That Use & Waste The Most Plastic
Plastics in the packaging industry are the most produced plastics in society, and it makes sense this is where a lot of the waste is.
We use plastic packaging for a range of things, with a major example being in the food and beverage industry.
An important distinction though needs to be made between sectors that use a lot of plastic, and sectors that generate a lot of plastic waste.
If we take the Construction industry for example – it uses a lot of plastic, but produces much less plastic waste as the plastics it uses aren’t the single use type, but mainly plastics with decades of usage lifespan i.e. plastics might be used for 30 years before becoming waste.
Packaging on the other hand is known for a lot of single use plastics which means a high plastic waste rate also.
Ourworldindata.org has a chart which illustrates this – https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/mean-product-lifetime-plastic
What Is Plastic Used For In Society?
Practically, plastic benefits us in society with the sheer number of uses we can get out of it (and how important some of these uses are).
For example, plastic packaging is used to keep food fresh and hygienic.
Some of the other important uses of plastic in society are:
- Fibers (e.g. used in clothing for synthetic fibres)
- Personal care products (e.g. toothbrushes)
- Fishing line and fishing equipment
- Low strength machine parts
- Glasses and lenses
- Security panels and security shields
- For food and beverage packaging
- Car parts
- Fridge liners
- Plumbing pipes
- Wire insulation
- Other construction materials and parts
- Contact lenses
- Composite materials
- Medical equipment and devices
- + more
Read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic (under the ‘Types’ section
You can also read more about how the different types of plastic are used individually in this guide.
Sectors That Use The Most Plastic
In 2015, plastic produced went to these sectors of society:
- Packaging – 35.9%
- Building & Construction – 16%
- Textiles – 14.5%
- Other – 11.5%
- Consumer & Institutional Products – 10.3%
- Transportation – 6.6%
- Electrical/Electronic – 4.4%
- Industrial/Machinery – 0.7%
Plastic production by sector in 2015, measured in tonnes per year, was:
- Packaging – 146 million tonnes
- Building & Construction – 65 million tonnes
- Other sectors – 59 million tonnes
- Textiles – 47 million tonnes
- Consumer & Institutional Products – 42 million tonnes
- Transportation – 27 million tonnes
- Electrical/Electronic – 18 million tonnes
- Industrial Machinery – 3 million tonnes
Sectors That Produce The Most Plastic Waste
Global plastic waste generation in 2015, measured in tonnes per year, was:
- Packaging – 141 million tonnes
- Other sectors – 42 million tonnes
- Textiles – 38 million tonnes
- Consumer & Institutional Products – 37 million tonnes
- Transportation – 17 million tonnes
- Electrical/Electronic – 13 million tonnes
- Building & Construction – 13 million tonnes
- Industrial Machinery – 1 million tonnes
As mentioned above, plastics that are short term/single use plastics contribute to a higher waste rate.
If you look at littering rates and data for rivers, land, beaches and oceans, plastic features heavily.
Other Important Everyday Uses & Benefits Of Plastic In Society