Ecological and social footprint

When considering the ecological and social implications of using polymers, it is likely that the polymer is non-renewable. Some polymers are plant-based, but most are derived from crude oil, which cannot be grown and is a finite resource - there is only a certain amount within the Earth’s crust. As a tremendous amount of energy is used to convert crude oil to a polymer, it is important to consider other materials or to reuse plastics already available.

Whenever environmental impact is to be reduced, ‘the 6 Rs’ can be addressed to ensure an in-depth analysis has been done. The 6 Rs can be considered by the designer, the manufacturer and the consumer to reduce that negative impact on the environment.

Considering the 6 Rs when designing food packaging

The 6 Rs, reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink, refuse and repair illustrated around a rubbish bin.

The 6 Rs

The term ‘the 6 Rs’ can be applied to the design of new products or when a product is finished with, used up or no longer wanted. Here are some questions to prompt 6 Rs thinking:

  • Reduce - Can the amount of polymer used be reduced? Can the polymer be bought locally to reduce product miles?
  • Reuse - Can the polymer be reused for another purpose once a product is finished with?
  • Recycle - Can the polymer be disposed of correctly so that it can be recycled?
  • Rethink - Can the way a product is made be redesigned so that less or no polymer is used?
  • Refuse - Refusing to use a polymer could be a consideration; could a material that is sustainable be used instead?
  • Repair - When a product is broken, can it be repaired rather than discarded?