Why Future Historians May Refer to Today as the Plastic Age

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According to the Smithsonian, we may be living in the “Plastic Age.” A quick look at the versatility of this man-made resource shows us why.

Periods in history have often been named for the materials used and the technologies created. There was the Stone Age when stone tools reigned king, followed by the the Bronze Age until the discovery of iron ushered mankind into the Iron Age. What will future historians look back on our time and decide was our single most defining contribution to human history?

According to some researches, it may be plastic.

The plastics industry accounts for $375 billion of the U.S. economy alone. Approximately 1 million Americans are employed by the plastics industry. To see the importance of plastic in our lives, all you need do is walk through any given supermarket aisle. Plastic packaging is the vehicle of choice for almost all food, beverage and household products. Almost everything, from the milk you drink to the meat and cheese you buy or the detergent you use, comes in plastic pouches. Even Spot’s kibbles come in plastic containers if you want the packaging to be resealable.

Our preference for plastic comes with good reason:

  • Plastic protects our food. Plastic packaging such as heat-sealed plastic pouches shield food from contamination and help maintain freshness. Plastic pouches reduce food waste by 1.7 pounds per pound of plastic.
  • Plastic is lightweight. Plastic pouch packaging can carry far more goods than glass or aluminum at a fraction of the weight. Only 1.5 pounds of plastic can transport 10 gallons of liquid. Aluminum, on the other hand, would require three pounds of packaging to carry the same 10 gallons of liquid. Modern plastics have reduced the weight of liquid pouch packaging design from what it was a mere 20 years go. Today’s gallon milk jug is 30% lighter than the one on store shelves in the mid-1990s.
  • Customized packaging bags made from plastic have greatly streamlined shipping. What can be transported in a single truckload of flexible plastic pouches would require 26 truckloads if packaged in glass jars. Inventions such as inno-lok customized packaging, a flexible plastic pouch that can be designed to the packager’s specifications, enable packagers to form-fit their plastic pouches to the products they will hold. Specialized and flexible pouch packaging have all but eliminating wasted space in packages. No longer is there a need for bag-in-box shipping with the wide array of flexible plastic pouches available. They’re so durable and convenient, even children’s juice boxes are becoming juice bags. Plastic pouches such as inno-lok packaging allow for easy re-usability with zipper packaging or the ability for built-in pour spouts.
  • It’s recyclable. No list detailing the positive attributes of plastic could be complete without mentioning that it is, of course, recyclable. In 2011, a study found that infrastructure was in place to enable 94% of Americans to recycle their plastics, a number which has surely grown since then.

When recognized for its myriad uses, it’s no wonder plastic reigns king in today’s packaging markets. With anticipated annual growth of 3.4%, we’re likely to see an even greater shift to flexible plastic packaging still to come.

If we are destined to become the “Plastic Age,” it’ll be a title we can wear with pride. Our devotion to this versatile, light-weight and reusable resource is as varied as the plastic pouches we use. Be it lighter-weight milk cartons, customized packaging bags like inno-lok, or liquid spout bags, innovation in the plastic industry is sure to continue. Next time you find yourself grabbing for a glass jar or cardboard container, ask yourself this: Could it be made of plastic instead?

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