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  • Press Release

Life Cycle Review Shows Shrinking Environmental Footprint of Plastics Production

GHG Emissions and Energy Use Went Down in Production of Three Common Resins

Andrea Albersheim
440,000 Cars Off The Road

WASHINGTON, DC (December 7, 2023) – A new report, spanning data from 2005 to 2017, delves into the remarkable decline in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and energy consumption during the production of plastic resins. The plastics manufacturing industry showed a significant reduction in global warming potential even while consumers and businesses demanded the material for cars and trucks, new homes, packaged goods, and other products that rely on plastics. A new report, “A Decreasing Footprint: A Review of Resin Life Cycle Assessments,” the second in a series of three of life cycle assessment reviews, looks at trio of thermoplastics (HIPS, GPPS and ABS) commonly used in automotive, construction, protective packaging and household items.

The report showed that over the past decade:

  • The environmental footprint from the production of three common thermoplastics shrank, as measured by GHGs and energy use, as well as the associated global warming potential (GWP). The GHGs from the production decreased notably – by 13% per kilogram of resin produced. The emission reductions are equivalent to removing 440,000 cars from our roads for one year. That’s the same amount of GHGs as all car owners in Delaware not driving for a year.
  • The positive trend toward lower GHGs is expected to continue as production shifts to lower carbon fuel sources, including renewables.
  • The positive trend toward lower energy use is expected to continue due to efficiency improvements in the production of resins and their precursors.
  • The first report in this series, which focused on LDPE, LLDPE, HDPE and PP, found even more promising data, with the production of those four plastics increasing over the same time period while associated GHGs decreased significantly – by the equivalent of removing 1 million cars from our roads for one year.

“Plastics offer a one-two punch as we transition to a lower carbon future,” said Ross Eisenberg, president of America’s Plastic Makers®. “Plastic products are often found to have lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to many common alternatives."

Resins Included in the Report

These three durable thermoplastics find widespread application across various sectors, notably recognized for their significant contribution to human safety. They are used in everyday goods ranging from bicycle helmets to automotive body parts, helping to reduce injuries and keep passengers safe.

  • High impact polystyrene (HIPS) – produced from a combination of polystyrene and rubber, making it more impact resistant, is commonly found in appliance parts, automotive, computer housing, toys and food packaging. There was an 11 percent reduction of GWP in the production of HIPS over the past decade.
HIPS Carbon Dioxide Emissions per 1000kg
  • General purpose polystyrene (GPPS) – a transparent polymer known for its glass-like clarity is typically used for protective packaging, bottles and food containers, as well as commonly used household items like toothbrushes, pens and children’s toys. From 2010 to 2020, there was a 10 percent reduction of GWP in the production of GPPS.
GPPS Carbon Dioxide Emissions per 1000kg
  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) – highly durable, well known in children’s toy bricks, and commonly used in protective headgear (helmets), automotive components, kitchen appliances, and musical instruments. A remarkable 24 percent reduction of GWP was made in the production of ABS.
ABS Carbon Dioxide Emissions per 1000kg

The LCAs, conducted by Franklin Associates in 2010 and 2020, began with the extraction of raw materials and ended with the plastic material (or resin) or resin precursor leaving the manufacturing facility, typically called a “cradle-to-gate” LCA. The studies looked at the environmental footprint of multiple types of plastics, using data from 2005 and 2017, respectively.

The data from this report are available in the U.S. Lifecycle Inventory Database, and the full studies are available on ACC’s website. This information can help inform decision-making related to the environmental footprint of materials over their full lifecycles.

American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division

The American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division represents America’s Plastic MakersSM and the half million+ scientists, engineers, technicians, and other innovators who make plastics for many essential and lifesaving products that are vital to modern life. America’s Plastic Makers continue to embrace change. We’re linking innovation with sustainability, deploying next generation technologies to make plastics lighter, stronger, more efficient and more recyclable, so we can meet our goal for 100% of U.S. plastic packaging to be reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040. We’re making sustainable change to help build a cleaner, safer, more sustainable future for generations to come. 

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council’s mission is to advocate for the people, policy, and products of chemistry that make the United States the global leader in innovation and manufacturing. To achieve this, we: Champion science-based policy solutions across all levels of government; Drive continuous performance improvement to protect employees and communities through Responsible Care®; Foster the development of sustainability practices throughout ACC member companies; and Communicate authentically with communities about challenges and solutions for a safer, healthier and more sustainable way of life. Our vision is a world made better by chemistry, where people live happier, healthier, and more prosperous lives, safely and sustainably—for generations to come.

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