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Benefits of Plastics

Performance All Wrapped Up
When the packaging questions are tough, plastics are often the answer. Sometimes they are the only answer, performing tasks no other materials can perform and providing consumers with products and services no other materials can provide.

Different plastics offer different qualities, giving manufacturers and consumers the freedom to choose the type of plastic that best suits the application. Plastics can be rigid when protection is needed, or flexible for convenience's sake. They can be clear or opaque. And they can be molded into a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Offering safety, quality, convenience and savings, plastic packaging meets needs.

Safety by Design
In medical facilities, plastic packaging offers a superior ability to protect products against contamination and, consequently, patients against infection. The chemical resistance, transparency and toughness of plastics enhance safety and efficiency in both the laboratory and day-to-day hospital use. Plastics, which can conform to any shape and guard against impurities, are the perfect materials for shipping and storing intricate medical instruments. And in uses such as see-through intravenous bags and break-resistant containers, plastic packaging has proven indispensable in modern medical care.

In the home, break-resistant, shatterproof and no-spill plastic bottles cut down on injuries and clean-ups anywhere the floor is hard and hands may be slippery. Plastic packaging for shampoos, harsh chemicals and motor oils make at-home tasks easier and less hazardous. Child-resistant plastic closures and leak-proof plastic containers for medicines and chemicals provide safety for tots and peace of mind for parents, while tamper-evident closures and shrink-wrap bands made of plastic help protect consumers from tampering.

Food-service outlets and their customers rely on plastic packaging to protect food products against contamination and retain desired temperatures longer. And single-serve plastic packaging for condiments not only preserves freshness and flavor, it also ensures the consumer a sanitary portion while cutting down on food waste.

There When We Need Them
Plastic packaging molds itself to modern lifestyles. Today's working parents and busy homes rely on its convenience and the services it provides.

Microwave ovens have become a near necessity in American homes, and plastic trays are the package of choice for consumers. Microwave cooking enables active people to eat well without spending their limited leisure time on food preparation. The elderly, too, benefit from the ease of microwavable food packaging.
Plastic packaging also preserves flavor and saves time in conventional cooking and storage. Squeeze bottles for condiments, boil-in-bag dishes, resealable bags for everything from shredded cheese to cereal, freezer bags that protect food against ice crystals, precooked foods that are microwavable in the package all contribute to quality meals in the home.

Extremely lightweight and molded to promote easy handling, plastic containers allow consumers to enjoy the savings of beverages, detergents and other products in the "large economy size." And plastic packaging, which can be transparent without being fragile, enables consumers to see what they're getting and to serve themselves.

In addition to saving space in today's smaller living quarters, plastic packaging can be as decorative as it is serviceable. Further, it won't leave rust rings on counters and fixtures. For a host of personal and home products, plastic packaging works well and looks good, too.

For Shipping, Storing, Savings
The use of plastics for shipping and storage will continue to grow. Strong, durable and tear resistant, plastic packaging saves energy, space and money. Plastic containers, which generally require less energy to manufacture than other packaging, also require less fuel to transport than heavier materials. Additional savings come from reductions in shipping damage and elimination of the need for additional packing materials, such as partitions between individual products. Strong enough for stacking and moldable into space-saving shapes, plastic containers can maximize warehousing room and lower storage costs.

Meeting unique packaging needs - from anti-static protective packaging for electronic components to shelf-stable containers for products that once required costly cold storage - are a specialty of plastics. Because they can be molded to fit contours, plastics provide the ultimate protection in packaging office machines, entertainment units, computer components and other delicate products. Tough enough to withstand the stresses of transportation yet capable of screening out even the smallest particle of dust, plastic packaging delivers.

These factors all add up to savings for producers and merchants and can result in lower prices for consumers.

Disposing of Myths
After their intended use, plastic containers often can be used again - for the same or a different purpose. Plastic grocery sacks can tote wet swimsuits home from the beach or garbage to the bin. In the hands of ingenious consumers, plastic milk jugs become planters and plastic soda bottles are converted to bird feeders.

In 1994, over 1 billion pounds of plastics were recycled. That figure has grown dramatically as new technologies, markets and collection systems are developed. Some 15,000 communities have more than tripled their collection of plastics for recycling in the last four years. Recycled plastic soft-drink bottles are being used to create new products, such as new bottles, fiberfill for winter clothing, carpeting and building materials. Recycled plastic milk jugs and soft-drink-bottle base cups are being used to create drainage pipes, buckets and plastic "lumber" for boat docks. And mixed plastics are being recycled into landscaping "timber" and outdoor benches.

Plastic packaging, which constitutes less than 4 percent of all municipal solid waste by weight, also can be disposed of safely in landfills. And when incinerated, plastics - with their high energy content - help the waste mix burn more efficiently, enhancing waste-to-energy conversion and leaving less ash for disposal.

More in Store
Plastic packaging continues to have the wrap on consumer preference. Freshness, storage stability and ease of preparation are among the consumer goals driving the popularity of plastic food packaging. New ideas include plastic containers for cereal, coffee, spices and baby food, as well as squeeze bottles that allow portion control of juice concentrates and keep contents fresh in the refrigerator for up to five weeks. Freezer-to-oven-to-table plastic food packaging is now available for both microwave and conventional oven use. And plastic container design itself is participating in the cooking, with innovations such as tapered popcorn boxes that keep the kernels in the hot oil and microwavable cake mixes with reusable trays.

In other types of packaging as well, consumers and the hospitals, schools and other institutions that serve them increasingly are turning to plastics.

Safe, sanitary, easy to use and economical, plastic packaging is the shape of the future.

The Society of the Plastics Industry
Copyright 2007 The Society of the Plastics Industry

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