Q: Can plastics actually save energy?
A: Yes. And they use less energy than you might think: the raw materials that go into the production of plastics account for only 1.5 percent of total energy consumption. In addition, it often takes less energy to convert plastics from a raw material into a finished product than comparable products made of other materials:
• Plastic grocery bags require 40 percent less energy to make than paper bags.
• Foam polystyrene containers require 30 percent less total energy than paperboard containers.
• Fifty-three billion kilowatt hours of electricity are saved annually by improvement in major appliance energy efficiency made possible by plastic applications. Without plastics, these appliances would use 30 percent more energy.
Q: Would more energy be conserved if plastic packaging were replaced by non-plastic alternatives?
A: No. In fact, the total energy used in manufacturing plastic packaging is considerably less than the energy used to produce non-plastic alternatives -- even when the inherent energy value of plastics' raw materials is factored in. This means that without plastics, the equivalent of an additional 58 million barrels of oil or 325 billion cubic feet of natural gas would have been required to meet America's packaging needs in 1990. That's enough to meet the energy needs of 100,000 homes for 35 years.