Minimizing the environmental impacts of plastic through eco-design

30 August 2023, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


While plastic pollution threatens ecosystems and human health, the use of plastic products continues to increase. Limiting its harm requires strategies when designing plastic products informed by the threats plastics pose to the environment. Thus, we developed a sustainability metric for the eco-design of plastic products with low environmental persistence and uncompromised performance. To do this, we integrated the environmental degradation rate of plastic into established material selection strategies, deriving material indices for environmental persistence. By comparing indices for the environmental impact of on-the-market plastics and proposed alternatives, we show that accounting for environmental persistence in design could translate to societal benefits of hundreds of millions of dollars for an individual consumer product. Our analysis identifies which materials deserve adoption and investment to create functional and less environmentally impactful products.


degradation rate
material selection
product design
life cycle assessment
environmental lifetime
green chemistry
green engineering

Supplementary materials

Supporting Information
Materials and methods; Section S1 deriving a material index; Section S2 deriving a material index for persistence; Section S3 derivation of Equation 6; Section S4 derivation of a material index for persistence of a coffee cup lid; Table S1 common material indices; Table S2 density of common plastics; Table S3 Young's modulus of common plastics; Table S4 specific price of common plastics; Table S5 embodied greenhouse gas emissions of common plastics; Table S6 embodied water usage of common plastics; Table S7 specific surface degradation rates of common plastics; Table S8 summary of specific surface degradation rates; Table S9 calculated material indices of common plastics; Table S10 exchange constants; Table S11 properties of disposable coffee cup lids; Table S12 properties of hypothetical disposable coffee cup lids; Table S13 data presented in Figures 2C-E; Additional references.
Data S1
Results of material selection course description survey.


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