Water Scarcity vs Water Stress vs Water Shortage: Differences, Similarities & Definitions

Water Scarcity vs Water Stress vs Water Shortage: Differences, Similarities & Definitions

There can often be some confusion over the meaning of the phrases water scarcity, water stress and water shortage.

In this guide, we outline briefly what each means, and put them in context to each other and other phrases used to describe global water issues.

 

Water Stress vs Water Scarcity vs Water Shortage: Similarities

Global water issues might be grouped into three main categories – water quantity related issues, water quality related issues, and water access related issues.

Water stress, scarcity and shortage all mainly refer to water quantity related issues – specifically, a lack of water to meet the demands of a population with an area (although, a lack of water access can lead to a lack of water quantity too).

Note that is possible a city could be water stressed or have scarce supplies of non potable water, but actually have secure supplies of drinking water. So, identifying the type of water that is scarce is important.

 

Water Stress vs Water Scarcity vs Water Shortage: Differences

We’ve outlined the differences below.

 

What Does Water Stress Mean?

Water stress is a sliding scale – countries, cities and regions can be highly water stressed, or experiencing very low water stress .

There’s several organisations that give indications of the different levels of water stress, expressing water stress as a the % of internal water resources vs water withdrawals.

Low water stress for example might be when withdrawals are less than 10% of internal fresh water resources annually. 

High water stress might be when withdrawals are between 40 to 80% of internal fresh water resources annually.

Read more in this guide for a more comprehensive description of what ‘water stress’ is, how it’s measured, and more.

 

What Does Water Scarcity Mean?

Water scarcity, or absolute water scarcity, is the point where extreme water stress is reached.

Pacinst for example describes water scarcity vs water stress as:

  • … [if] the amount of renewable water in a country is below 1,700 m3 per person per year, that country is said to be experiencing water stress; below 1,000 m3 it is said to be experiencing water scarcity; and below 500 m3, absolute water scarcity

Read more in this guide for a more comprehensive description of what ‘water scarcity’ is, the different ways it’s measured, and more.

 

What Does Water Shortage Mean?

Water shortage is often used to describe the same conditions as water scarcity. 

But, ‘water shortage’ is sometimes a phrase used to describe the extreme end of water scarcity where clean fresh water supplies are getting to low enough levels, extreme water restrictions have to be enforced, and municipal tap water may be getting to a point where they have to be turned off.

You can read a case study of the Cape Town water shortage in this guide.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/water-sanitation-hygiene-issues-specific-to-underdeveloped-developing-countries-regions/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/words-phrases-to-describe-different-global-water-issues-what-they-mean/

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/cape-town-water-shortage-case-study-causes-solutions-what-we-can-learn-for-future-water-crisis-events/

Water & Sanitation/Hygiene Issues Specific To Underdeveloped & Developing Countries & Regions

Water & Sanitation/Hygiene Issues Specific To Underdeveloped & Developing Countries & Regions

Water and sanitation/hygiene issues can vary significantly between developed, and underdeveloped & developing parts of the world.

Three major issues that tend to be specific to underdeveloped or developing countries and regions include:

  • (Lack of) Access to safely managed and clean drinking water
  • (Lack of) Access to safely managed and basic sanitation and hygiene services
  • Open defecation

In this guide, we outline some of the important information and considerations for each of these issues.

* Note – underdeveloped and developing regions can also be more vulnerable to water related natural disasters such as floods, but natural disasters are outside the scope of this guide.

 

Summary – Water & Sanitation/Hygiene Issues Specific To Underdeveloped Or Developing Countries & Regions

  • Some water issues are global. These issues centre around having adequate supplies of water to meet demand (water stress or water scarcity), and adequate water quality
  • But, some issues are specific to developing and underdeveloped regions of the world (which tend to be low and sometimes middle income areas and countries). These include lack of access to clean and safe drinking water, and lack of access to basic sanitation and hygiene services (with open defecation sometimes being a side effect of this)
  • The impact of these issues is obvious – serious human health (inadequate water and sanitation is the leading cause of diarrhoea globally, just as one example), economic and social effects. Young children in particular can be impacted by these issues
  • The main cause of these issues is low income and poverty (and in some cases, inadequate political or institutional investment in and management of water and sanitation services and infrastructure) 
  • The main solution is that these regions, and in particular rural parts of these regions, need external financial investment to help provide these basic services in the short term. In the long term, these regions need help developing economically so they can maintain and manage their own water and sanitation/hygiene services and infrastructure
  • Access to improved water sources increases with income (ourworldindata.org)
  • Similarly to improved water access, the provision of sanitation facilities tends to increase with income (ourworldindata.org)
  • Specific solutions to access drinking water might include adequate quality drinking water that comes from a protected source, and is delivered to where people live (so they don’t have to travel to collect their drinking water)
  • Specific solutions to access to basic sanitation and hygiene might include a protected toilet or latrine that prevents contact of excretion from human skin, disposal and waste collection and management services, feminine hygiene services, and taps and soap to wash hands

 

Other notes …

  • Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and The Pacific, & South Asia are some of the regions in the world with the most people who lack access to improved drinking water sources, or protected drinking water sources
  • Over 90% of people worldwide without access to improved sanitation facilities live in Asia, the Pacific or Sub-Saharan Africa
  • 15 percent of the world’s population were still practicing open defecation, with rates being highest in South Asia (India in particular), and Sub Saharan Africa

 

Explaining The (Lack Of) Access To Safely Managed & Clean Drinking Water Issue

The Problem

  • People lack access to protected drinking water services that is safe to drink, and that is delivered to where they live
  • Beyond that, just because a water source has been improved, it doesn’t mean it is fully clean or safe to drink (so, quality of water, as well as access to that water, is a problem)

 

Where It Happens Most

  • Access [to clean drinking water] in 2015 remains lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where rates typically range from 40 to 80 percent of households. 
  • The number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa without access to an improved water source has increased from 271 million in 2990, to 326 million in 2015. 
  • To put these numbers in context, almost half of people drinking water from unprotected sources worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa, and eight in 10 live in rural areas.
  • East Asia and The Pacific make up 133 million, and South Asia also makes up 133 million. 

– OurWorldInData.org

 

The Causes

  • Poverty and low income
  • Inadequate protected drinking water infrastructure, or no infrastructure at all
  • Inadequate political and institutional management of water services
  • Being in a rural area as opposed to an urban area
  • Water pollution and contamination

 

The Effects

  • Diseases and human health problems – malnutrition, [and in the case of contaminated water] higher rates of transmission of infectious diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio (OurWorldInData.org). 
  • Death & higher mortality rates – particularly with children. The WHO estimates that in 2015, the deaths of 361,000 children under 5-years-old could have been avoided by addressing water and sanitation risk factors (WHO/OurWorldInData.org). Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 502 000 diarrhoeal deaths each year (WHO.int)
  • More public health problems and investment – water related problems lead to public health problems that have to be addressed
  • Slower economic growth, increased poverty, and more socio economic decline – water is used for almost everything in society and the economy, so, when there is a lack of access, work and other areas of the economy and society suffer. Women and children in particular spend 258 million hours every day worldwide collecting water. This is time spent not working, caring for family members or attending school (Water.org)
  • Decreased safety – where people have to walk long distances to get their water. Women and children especially are at risk
  • Decreased education rates – if children have to spend time walking to obtain water from a water source far away from their home
  • Other socio economic effects

 

Trends

Overall, access to improved water sources is increasing across the world.

 

Per OurWorldInData.org:

  • Access to improved water sources is increasing across the world overall, rising from 76 percent of the global population in 1990 to 91 percent in 2015.
  • The share of rural households with improved water sources was lower than the total population in 2015, with 85 percent access. 
  • Globally 97 percent of urban households had improved water access, with most nations now having close to 100 percent penetration.

 

Per WHO.int, in 2018:

  • In 2015, 71% of the global population (5.2 billion people) used a safely managed drinking-water service – that is, one located on premises, available when needed, and free from contamination.
  • 89% of the global population (6.5 billion people) used at least a basic service. A basic service is an improved drinking-water source within a round trip of 30 minutes to collect water.
  • 844 million people lack even a basic drinking-water service, including 159 million people who are dependent on surface water.
  • Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, 38% of health care facilities lack an improved water source, 19% do not have improved sanitation, and 35% lack water and soap for handwashing.

 

Also per WHO.int:

  • 1.3 billion people with basic services, meaning an improved water source located within a round trip of 30 minutes
  • 263 million people with limited services, or an improved water source requiring more than 30 minutes to collect water
  • 423 million people taking water from unprotected wells and springs
  • 159 million people collecting untreated surface water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.

 

Per WHO/UNICEF, via the theguardian.com. In 2015:

  • 663 million people – one in 10 – still drank water from unprotected sources (a protected source protects against contamination, whereas an unprotected one doesn’t).
  • In 41 countries, a fifth of people drink water from a source that is not protected from contamination
  • In most countries, the majority of people spend less than 30 minutes collecting water, or have a piped supply within their home. But in some regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa, many people spend more than 30 minutes – and some more than an hour – on each trip to collect water. This burden still falls mainly on women and girls – they are responsible for this task in eight in 10 households that don’t have a piped supply.
  • Mongolia is the only country where men and boys have primary responsibility for collecting water
  • In many parts of the world, water isn’t available all day everyday. In some provinces of South Africa, water supply in 60% of households has been interrupted for two days or more. In South Africa in 2014, a fifth of households with municipal piped water had interruptions that lasted for more than two days. This was three times higher in some regions of the country. Few countries have water available continuously, but in many parts of the world a less than 24-hour supply is still considered sufficient. Countries use a wide range of different measures to assess availability and these must match up so that comparisons of service levels can be made across countries and over time.
  • The cost of drinking water and sanitation is different in different countries – In Tanzania, 10% of the population spend more than 5% of their expenditure on drinking water

 

How To Address (Lack Of) Access To Safely Managed & Clean Drinking Water

  • Financial investment in drinking water infrastructure for extraction, treatment and purification, transport and delivery in regions with the the highest rates of lack of access to safely managed and clean drinking water
  • Ensure water is continuously tested and monitored to ensure it’s safe to drink and that the quality of the water meets safe water guidelines and regulations
  • Address other contributing factors such as reducing poverty, reducing water pollution and contamination 
  • Ensure clean drinking water can be accessed all day, and not just intermittently or only for a limited number of hours in the day
  • Ensure drinking water is affordable for all individuals

 

Can aim for all regions throughout the world to have improved drinking water sources:

  • “An improved drinking water source includes piped water on premises (piped household water connection located inside the user’s dwelling, plot or yard), and other improved drinking water sources (public taps or standpipes, tube wells or boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs, and rainwater collection).

– WorldBank, & UNICEF/WHO, via OurWorldInData.org

 

Can aim for all regions throughout the world to have safe water that meets a certain quality:

  • Some [water] sources protect against contamination, but it still might not be safe to drink the water.
  • To be considered “safe”, a source of drinking water must be free from pathogens and high levels of harmful substances. Globally, the main health concern is faecal contamination, which is identified by the presence of bacteria such as E.coli.
  • In many places, a water point is designed to protect against contamination, but the water from it might still have traces of E.coli – the groundwater may be contaminated by faulty latrines, or the containers people use to carry and store water may contain traces of the bacteria.
  • In Nepal, 91% of the population drink from an improved water source, but E.coli has still been detected.
  • [So, improved drinking water sources need to be monitored for quality and contamination/pollution too]

– WHO/UNICEF, via the theguardian.com

 

According to OurWorldInData.org:

  • Access to improved water sources generally increases with income of the country

 

Sometimes, there are emergency responses required in some countries such as Yemen, where conflict has contributed to water shortages. Organisations like UNICEF has help re-establish water reserves, along with helped in providing other emergency water and sanitation services (borgenproject.org)

 

Explaining The (Lack of) Access To Safely Managed & Basic Sanitation & Hygiene Services Issue

The Problem

  • A lack of access to improved sanitation conditions or facilities to dispose of human waste safely and hygienically

Unimproved sanitation facilities include flush or pour–flush to elsewhere, pit latrine without slab or open pit, bucket, hanging toilet or hanging latrine, or no facilities or bush or field.

 

Types Of Sanitation

According to Wikiprogress.org:

  • Basic sanitation – refers to the management of human feces at the household level. Basic sanitation is the same as improved sanitation. This is facilities that ensure hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. They include:
    • Flush or pour-flush toilet/latrine to a piped sewer system, a septic tank or a pit latrine.
    • Ventilated improved pit latrine.
    • Pit latrine with slab.
    • Composting toilet.
  • On-site sanitation – the collection and treatment of waste is done where it is deposited. Examples are the use of pit latrines, septic tanks, and Imhoff tanks.

 

Where It Happens Most

From OurWorldInData.org: 

  • Of the total number of people without access to improved sanitation facilities by region, over 90 percent of those without access in 2015 resided in Asia, the Pacific or Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The largest region share was from South Asia, accounting for 40 percent and nearly one billion without access. This was followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with nearly 30 percent (706 million), and East Asia & Pacific with around 22 percent (520 million).
  • There remains large inequalities in levels of access to improved sanitation across the countries in the world
  • In 2015, the total share of the population with access to improved sanitation across Europe, North America, North Africa and some of Latin America is typically greater than 90 percent (and in most cases between 99 and 100 percent).
  • Between 80 and 90 percent of households in Latin America and the Caribbean have improved sanitation.
  • Access is slightly lower across Central and East Asia, typically between 70 and 80 percent.
  • In South Asia, progress has been varied. Sri Lanka has achieved a 95 percent access rate; Pakistan and Bangladesh both have access of over 60 percent; whereas India lags behind in this regard with just under 40 percent.
  • Regionally, access is lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where most countries have less than 40 percent access rates.
  • In South Sudan, only 6-7 percent of the population had improved sanitation in 2015.
  • Within each country, rural areas generally have less access to sanitation than urban areas

 

  • [rural areas compared to urban areas tend to have a lower share of sanitation facilities]

 

The Causes

  • Poverty and low income
  • Inadequate sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and services, or no infrastructure and services at all
  • Inadequate political and institutional management of water services
  • Lack of access to basic water services (water is required for sanitation and hygiene services)
  • Being in a rural area as opposed to an urban area

 

The Effects

  • Human health problems – higher rates of the transmission of infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. This is particularly the case with contaminated water and when there is a lack of water for proper sanitation (OurWorldInData.org)
  • Death and higher mortality rates – particularly with children. The WHO estimates that in 2015, the deaths of 361,000 children under 5-years-old could have been avoided by addressing water and sanitation risk factors (WHO/OurWorldInData.org)
  • + socio economic effects

 

Some more findings from OurWorldInData.org & WHO on the impacts are:

  • There are a number of important contributing factors to child mortality, including nutrition, healthcare and other living standards … But, in countries where open defecation is greater than 10 percent, typically more than 20 children per 1,000 die before their 5th birthday.
  • Contaminated drinking water, poor sanitation facilities and open defecation contribute to the transmission of infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio, and can also have severe impacts on malnutrition.
  • Stunting — determined as having a height which falls below the median height-for-age WHO Child Growth Standards — is a sign of chronic malnutrition … [but is also linked to poor sanitation and hygiene]

 

Other stats and findings on the effects of lack of sanitation according to Worldvision.com.au are:

  • Poor water and sanitation is the leading cause of diarrhoea, which is the second biggest cause of death among children under five, killing 760,000 each year 
  • Poor water and sanitation can severely erode health and wellbeing gains made by food and nutrition programs
  • Illness and time spent collecting water also reduces school attendance and adults’ capacity to work and earn income. A 2012 World Bank study of 18 African countries found they lose 1-2.5 percent of GDP – around US$5.5 billion – every year due to poor sanitation
  • 272 school days are lost each year due to water related diseases
  • 80% of childhood disease is related in some way to unsafe drinking water, inadequate hygiene and poor sanitation

 

And according to UN.org, Every 20 seconds a child dies as a result of poor sanitation.

 

Uniteforsight.org discusses a case study of lack of sanitation in Cape Town settlements 

 

Trends

In the last three decades (since 1990), 29 percent of the global population gained access to sanitation. But, in 2015, 2.39 billion still lack access to basic sanitation

 

From OurWorldInData.org (which has great charts and data on access to sanitation and open defecation + water access):

  • The total number of people without access to improved sanitation has remained almost constant from 1990 to 2015: in 1990 this figure was 2.49 billion, and in 2015 it reduced to 2.39 billion.
  • Total world population has of course grown in total though over this period
  • This means the % of the population without access has decreased (which is an improvement)
  • This population growth also means the total number with access has increased from 2.8 billion in 1990 to nearly 5 billion in 2015.
  • From 1990-2015, a share of 29 percent of the global population gained access to sanitation.
  • But, share of people gaining access to improved sanitation is growing at different rates in different countries and regions and better effort needs to be made that countries and areas lagging behind are helped out

 

In 2018, according to WHO.int:

  • In low- and middle-income countries, 19% do not have improved sanitation, and 35% lack water and soap for handwashing.

 

From Worldvision.com.au – 844 million people lack access to safe water, while 2.5 billion people live without improved sanitation.

 

WHO.int have a good fact sheet on access to sanitation and open defecation 

 

How To Address(Lack of) Access To Safely Managed & Basic Sanitation & Hygiene Services 

Potential ways to increase access to improved sanitation and decrease open defecation are:

  • To develop, invest in and aid low income/low GDP countries economically so they can afford new water and sanitation facilities and infrastructure, and so they can maintain it. This would involve improved sanitation services (including toilets and latrines for individual families, and eliminating shared toilets for families, feminine hygiene services, and the ability to wash and soap hands), as well as the ability to dispose of, treat, and manage human waste safely and effectively with sewage and waste services.
  • According to the United Nations World Health Organization (2014), every dollar invested in water and sanitation results in a $4.30 return in the form of reduced healthcare costs (Worldvision.com.au)
  • Place specific focus on rural areas who lag in both sanitation and open defecation rates

 

Worldbank.org says:

  • “Reaching the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030 will require countries to spend $150 billion per year. A fourfold increase in water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) investments compared to what is spent today, this is out of reach for many countries, threatening progress on poverty eradication.”

 

  • An example of an organisation helping with the sanitation issue is UNICEF. UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) team works in over 100 countries worldwide to improve water and sanitation services, as well as basic hygiene practices.
  • In one year, UNICEF’s efforts provided nearly 14 million people with clean water and over 11 million with basic toilets.

– UNICEF.org 

 

An aim for areas with a lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene services is to provide improved sanitation.

An improved sanitation facility is defined as a facility that:

  • “… hygienically separates human excreta from human contact. They include flush/pour flush (to piped sewer system, septic tank, pit latrine), ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrine, pit latrine with slab, and composting toilet.”

Improved sanitation facilities range from simple but protected pit latrines to flush toilets with a sewage connection. To be effective, facilities must be correctly constructed and properly maintained.

– WorldBank & WHO/UNICEF, via OurWorldInData.org

 

  • The word ‘sanitation’ also refers to the maintenance of hygienic conditions, through services such as garbage collection and wastewater disposal. 

– Wikiprogress.org

 

Explaining The Open Defecation Issue

The Problem

  • Defecating in the open – in places such as fields, forests, beaches, open bodies of water, and so on. 

 

Where It Happens Most

According to UN.org, in 2011, 1.04 billion people still practiced open defecation. 

 

From OurWorldInData.org:

  • In 2015, 15 percent of the world’s population were still practicing open defecation, presenting a reduction of approximately half since 1990
  • Prevalence was highest in South Asia where the average share is 36 percent. India in particular still has high rates, with nearly 45 percent still using open defecation.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, this rate was 23 percent. However, some countries in particular — such as Niger, Chad, South Sudan and Eritrea — still have a prevalence between 60-80 percent.
  • [open defecation is mainly a rural issues] … Open defecation in urban areas is typically below 20 percent of the population. For rural populations, however, the share of the population practicing open defecation can range from less than 20 percent to almost 90 percent. 

 

The Causes

  • Lack of access to basic waste disposal facilities and systems like toilets.

 

The Effects

  • In particular with open defecation, this can increase the rate of pathogens, toxins, nitrates and phosphates in the environment and harm the natural environment and ecosystem

 

Trends

  • The number of people practicing open defecation fell from 20 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2015

– wikipedia.org

 

How To Address Open Defecation

  • The solution is the same as the other issues – there needs to be a provision of improved sanitation and hygiene services
  • Low income regions need external financing to do this in the short term, and in the long term, need assistance growing their economies and income to be able to manage services and infrastructure themselves

 

Sources

1. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2018) – “Water Access, Resources & Sanitation”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org.Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/water-access-resources-sanitation’ [Online Resource]

2. http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water

3. https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/

4. http://www.who.int/news-room/detail/12-07-2017-2-1-billion-people-lack-safe-drinking-water-at-home-more-than-twice-as-many-lack-safe-sanitation

5. https://data.unicef.org/topic/water-and-sanitation/drinking-water/

6. https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2009/mar/03/access-water

7. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/mar/17/access-to-drinking-water-world-six-infographics

8. https://thewaterproject.org/water-scarcity/water_stats

9. https://washdata.org/

10. https://washdata.org/sites/default/files/documents/reports/2018-01/JMP-2017-report-final.pdf

11. https://ourworldindata.org/sanitation

12. https://ourworldindata.org/water-access

13. https://www.worldvision.com.au/global-issues/work-we-do/water-sanitation

14. http://wikiprogress.org/articles/health/access-to-sanitation/

15. http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/sanitation.shtml

16. http://www.who.int/topics/sanitation/en/

17. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2017/08/28/millions-around-the-world-held-back-by-poor-sanitation-and-lack-of-access-to-clean-water

18. https://www.unicef.org/wash/

19. http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sanitation

20. http://www.uniteforsight.org/urban-health/module4#_ftn2

21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_defecation#Prevalence_and_trends

22. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_issues_in_developing_countries

23. https://borgenproject.org/most-water-scarce-countries/

Is Aluminum More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Aluminum vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Aluminum More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Aluminum vs Plastic Comparison)

This guide outlines whether aluminum is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

It is a fairly short guide, as many of the sustainability considerations comparing metals and plastic we already outlined in this guide.

 

Summary – Is Aluminum More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • Refer to the linked guide above for the general sustainability of metals like stainless steel vs plastic
  • Some sustainability consideration of aluminum in particular can be found below
  • Note – aluminum can be used in a range of products and items such as bottles, cans, containers, windows and doors, and more

 

Aluminum vs Plastic: Comparison

The sustainability of aluminum bottles (vs. plastic bottles):

  • Aluminum comes from bauxite – depletion is not really a major issue
  • Aluminum production is one of the most energy intensive industries – even more intensive than stainless steel production
  • Using recycling aluminum cans instead of raw material uses ‘five percent of the energy and generates five percent of the emissions’ ( carbon emissions are 96% less)
  • Aluminum has a high recycling rate as a material compared to plastic
  • There can be concerns around the lining of aluminum cans and bottles – it may contain BPA like plastic does
  • Aluminum as a material used in bottles or cans may have a higher carbon footprint than glass, plastic, and tetra pak
  • Aluminum may degrade quicker than plastic 

– bettermeetsreality.com

 

Plastic vs metal packaging:

  • Overall, plastic tends to be more environmentally as packaging over a range of eco indicators compared to metal and other materials
  • Aluminium is abundant as a resource
  • Plastic uses a fraction of energy in production that aluminum and tin do
  • When the production process for each is compared it is found that 1 kg of Polyethylene plastics produce around 4 kg CO2 and 1 kg aluminum produces 10.63 kg CO2 
  • Plastic takes far longer to break down compared to aluminum
  • Aluminum doesn’t have all the leaching and environmental issues (like breaking into micro plastics) that plastic does
  • ‘In 2009 the EU had a recycling rate of 72% for tin and aluminum – compared to 9% of all plastic is recycled in the US]
  • ‘When tin and aluminum are recycled it allows for less new metal to be extracted from their ores. This reduces the amount of energy used annually on the production of aluminum and tinplate packaging. Due to this large recycling effort the amount of CO2 created in the production process is only 1/3 of what it would be if new ore were being continually extracted’

– desjardin.fr

 

Aluminum windows and doors:

  • Aluminum is durable 
  • Aluminum is abundant as a resource, and endlessly recyclable
  • ‘55% of world aluminium production is powered by renewable hydroelectric power’ (as opposed to fossil fuel powered production processes)

– duration.co.uk

 

Benefits of recycling aluminum:

  • Today, recycling of post-consumer aluminium products saves over 90 million tonnes of CO2 and over 100,000 GWh of electrical energy, equivalent to the annual power consumption of the Netherlands.
  • [The fact that aluminum is infinitely recyclable] has led to a situation where today around 75% of the almost one billion tonnes of aluminium ever produced is still in productive use

– recycling.world-aluminium.org

 

Aluminum consumption and recycling:

  • Although recycling aluminum reduces energy requirements, we should also be focussing on reducing consumption too because ‘recycled aluminum creates the demand for more virgin aluminum and more environmental destruction’ 
  • Aluminum takes approximately ‘13,500 to 17,000 kWh per ton’ to make
  • Recycling aluminum isn’t 100% eco friendly – ‘[there are] alloys that have to be removed using chemicals like chlorine; there are fumes and chemical releases that are toxic’
  • One problem for the future is that there is not enough recycled aluminum to meet demand
  • Aluminum mining (of bauxite) can be destructive, and then bauxite has to be shipped to another country

– treehugger.com

 

Aluminum sustainability:

  • ‘Aluminum has 20 percent smaller life cycle energy consumption than steel in transportation’
  • In the last 40 years, energy requirements to product aluminum, and the carbon footprint, are both improving
  • Aluminum is generally a green building material

– aluminum.org

 

  • Through the recycling process it saves 95% of the energy that it would cost to produce new aluminum 

– azahner.com

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of aluminum. Each different type of aluminum can have a different sustainability footprint (depending on how it’s processed, fabricated, etc.)
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long an aluminum product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint
  • There are different types of aluminum products with different sustainability footprints, such as aluminum cans for soda and alcohol … or for building materials like aluminum vs plastic window frames (which have a much longer lifespan). Specifically with aluminum vs plastic frames, there can be considerations to do with insulation and energy efficiency.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-vs-glass-vs-metal-stainless-steel-aluminum-bottles-comparison-which-is-best/

2. https://www.duration.co.uk/AluminiumSustainability.asp

3. http://recycling.world-aluminium.org/review/sustainability/

4. https://www.aluminum.org/aluminum-sustainability

5. https://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/recycling-aluminum-good-thing-right.html

6. https://www.desjardin.fr/en/blog/environmental-impacts-of-plastics-vs.-metals-which-is-better

7. https://www.azahner.com/blog/metal-sustainability

Is Stainless Steel More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Stainless Steel vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Stainless Steel More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Stainless Steel vs Plastic Comparison)

This is a guide outlining whether stainless steel is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

It is a fairly short guide, as many of the sustainability considerations comparing metals and plastic we already outlined in this guide.

 

Summary – Is Stainless Steel More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • Refer to the linked guide above for the general sustainability of metals like stainless steel vs plastic
  • Some sustainability consideration of SS in particular can be found below

 

Stainless Steel vs Plastic: Comparison

Stainless steel and SS bottles:

  • The production of SS can use more fossil fuels, release more GHGs, and demand the extraction of more metal resources compared to plastic bottles. It also involves air, water and soil pollution
  • Recycled iron used in stainless steel can reduce the eco impact of stainless steel bottles
  • SS is 100% recyclable, and SS is recycled with high recycling rates
  • SS doesn’t damage the soil or water if it becomes litter or it is disposed of in landfill sites
  • SS bottles may have leaching issues though if made with aluminum, or if they aren’t lead free food grade SS material. Some SS bottles also include plastic liners inside – so watch for htat
  • Cold water washing a SS bottle over it’s lifetime may be more eco friendly than hot water washing in a dishwasher for example
  • Re-using a SS bottle 500 times may mean that bottle beats a plastic bottle across many environmental indicators

– bettermeetsreality.com

 

Environmental aspects of stainless steel:

  • Stainless steel products are designed to have a long lifespan
  • Alloying elements chromium, nickel and molybdenum can be recovered from stainless steel in the recovery/recycling process
  • Approximately 60% on average of a new stainless steel product is made of recycled material (as an estimate). This is includes both old scrap and new scrap (along with new raw materials that are added)
  • Stainless steel rarely has damaging effects in a landfill
  • The use of SS can also lead to reduction in the use of fossil fuels, improvements in air quality, keeping water clean, the reduction of waste, and other environmental benefits

– bssa.org.uk

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of stainless steel. Each different type of stainless steel can have a different sustainability footprint 
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long a stainless steel product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint
  • Whether the stainless steel is recycled material can also make a difference to sustainability

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-vs-glass-vs-metal-stainless-steel-aluminum-bottles-comparison-which-is-best/

2. https://www.bssa.org.uk/sectors.php?id=99#recycling

Is Metal More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Metal vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Metal More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Metal vs Plastic Comparison)

This is a guide outlining whether metal is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

We compare some of the key factors involved in the production, usage and waste management of each.

 

Summary – Is Metal More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • Whether metal is more sustainable than plastic depends on the type of metal that is being compared with plastic (aluminum, stainless steel, etc.). It also depends on the item or product in question, the company that makes it, and other factors.
  • But, some general sustainability considerations might be:
  • 1. Sourcing Materials – both metal and plastic are mined from non renewable resources, but, common metals tend to be fairly abundant. Additionally, metals tend to have a far higher recycling rate than plastic and can be recycled infinitely – meaning that metal doesn’t always need to use virgin materials like some plastics might. 
  • 2. Production – metals tend to have a higher production footprint than plastic, especially with energy use.
  • 3. Transport & Delivery – plastic tend to be a lighter material than most materials, and might have a lower delivery/transport/freight footprint than some heavier metals.
  • 4. Waste Management & Recycling – metals can be used infinitely recycled, and have a far higher recycling rate than most plastics (which some say justifies the higher production footprint and energy use). Once plastic can’t be recycled anymore, it has to be downcycled, sent to landfill, or incinerated.
  • 5. Pollution, & Impact On Humans, Animals & The Environment – the potential issues plastic creates from a litter, human health, wild life, and environmental perspective, are probably greater than metal. Plastic is a heavily polluted material, contains additives and chemicals like BPA that may be a concern for humans (although metal drink bottles can contain chemicals that can leach as well), can be ingested by or entangle wild life, and creates other potential issues in the ocean, in rivers and on land. Micro plastics can also be an issue.
  • Overall, plastic has some advantages in terms of production and possible transport footprint. But, metal seems more abundant, can be recycled infinitely, and doesn’t seem to create the range of pollution or other issues that plastic might. At the very least, metal seems like a more circular material that can contribute to a circular economy compared to plastic. 
  • But, it depends on the life cycle stage and the sustainability indicator as to which material might be better in what regard.
  • Consumer behavior can also come into the equation – reusable water bottles made from metal for example may need to be re-used several hundred times before it’s sustainability rating matches or exceeds that of a plastic drink bottle. So, there are variables.

 

Examples Of Products With Metal & Plastic Options

  • Furniture (tables, chairs, beds, etc.)
  • Food & Beverage Goods (drink bottles, food containers and lunch boxes, etc.)
  • Building/Construction Materials

 

Metal vs Plastic: Comparison

  • Sourcing Of Materials – the sourcing of metal and plastic requires mining of finite materials – metal ores and fossil fuels. Common metal ores are generally abundant, whilst there is debate over the scarcity of fossil fuels (although it is agreed they are non renewable). Something to note though is that metal tends to have a far higher recycling rate. Theoretically, this may mean the rate at which we need to mine and extract metals into the future may even out or decrease, as long as demand for metal doesn’t keep increasing. For example, steel and aluminum furniture is likely already made of recycled content (inhabitat.com). It is estimated that ‘[when metals like aluminum and tin are recycled] … the amount of CO2 created in the production process is only 1/3 of what it would be if new ore were being continually extracted’ (desjardin.fr). Other estimates say ‘through the recycling process it saves 95% of the energy that it would cost to produce new aluminum’ (azahner.com)
  • Production – steel and plastic both use energy and resources in the production stage. Some sources indicate in some countries, metal production uses more energy than plastic. Using recycled metal material can reduce the sourcing and production footprint of metal products somewhat. Even though plastic production has some very negative production requirements, when compared to the production of tin and aluminum containers it only uses a fraction of the energy … When the production process for each is compared it is found that 1 kg of Polyethylene plastics produce around 4 kg CO2 and 1 kg aluminum produces 10.63 kg CO2 (desjardin.fr)
  • Delivery & Transport – some metals are heavier than plastic, so, it may have a higher delivery/transport footprint from increased fuel use. Plastic may also be more space efficient because of it’s properties.
  • Usage – metal can be more durable than some plastics, adding to the lifecycle duration of metal products.
  • Waste Management & Recycling – in most countries, metal has a far higher recycling rate than plastic. For example, ‘steel produced by predominantly scrap-fed electric-arc furnaces accounted for more than 60% of the total raw steel produced in the United States in 2013’ (theguardian.com), and, ‘More steel is recycled each year than aluminum, paper, glass and plastic combined’ (azahner.com), and, ‘By volume, copper is the third most recycled metal following steel and aluminum’ (azahner.com). Additionally, metal can be recycled infinitely, whereas plastic can only be recycled a certain amount of times before having to be downcycled.
  • Pollution – plastic is usually responsible for far more pollution (via littering and inadequately disposed of waste) at the end of material life cycle stage.
  • Degradationplastic usually takes far longer than metal to degrade in the environment.
  • Impact On Humans – plastic can impact humans in a number of ways – leaching of BPA and other chemicals, ingestion and inhalation of micro plastics and so on. That is not to say that products like stainless steel and aluminum drink bottles don’t have their own potential leaching issues.
  • Impact On Wild Life & Environment – plastic tends to have more potential for negative impact on wild life and the environment via ingestion and entanglement in plastics. Micro plastics can also play a role, as well as leaching of plastic additives into aquatic environments.
  • Metal vs Plastic Furniture – metal may win out over plastic furniture in health, and lifecycle, reuse and recyclability indicators (inhabitat.com). Micro plastics in the air indoors that humans may inhale are also more closely linked to plastic furniture and textiles.
  • Metal vs Plastic Bottlessingle use plastic bottles heavily contribute to waste and pollution problems. Metal bottles can be more sustainable than plastic bottles, but they usually need to be re-used over a longer period in order for their production footprint to average out to match plastic bottles.
  • Metal vs Plastic Packaging Items – Plastic packaging more sustainable across a range of environmental indicators compared to steel and aluminum … [and, using metal would result in a significant net negative environmental impact in the case of carrier bags, caps and closures, beverage containers, stretch and shrink film, other rigid packaging and other flexible packaging] (packaginginsights.com)

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

The Sustainability Of Specific Metals

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of metal. Each different type of metal can have a different sustainability footprint (depending on how it’s extracted, refined, fabricated etc.)
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long a metal product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint
  • Whether the metal product uses recycled material or not impacts sustainability
  • Although there are general sustainability factors to consider with metal and plastic, the size, weight and other features of an item or product can impact sustainability too. One material might be less eco friendly than the other per gram for example, but if the final product it’s used in is lighter than the same product made with another material, that product can have a better sustainability footprint even if the material itself isn’t as sustainable.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-vs-glass-vs-metal-stainless-steel-aluminum-bottles-comparison-which-is-best/

2. https://sustainability.stackexchange.com/questions/6896/wood-vs-plastic-vs-metal-furniture-and-other-items-is-the-wood-product-genera

3. https://www.reuters.com/article/climatechange-forests-furniture/ditch-metal-and-plastic-and-turn-to-wood-to-save-the-planet-says-u-n-idUSL8N1A63B3

4. https://inhabitat.com/materials-smackdown-what-is-green-furniture-is-made-from/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

6. https://www.packaginginsights.com/news/Plastics-the-most-environmentally-friendly-packaging-material-concludes-new-US-study.html

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-long-it-takes-for-different-materials-everyday-items-to-break-down-degrade/

8. https://www.desjardin.fr/en/blog/environmental-impacts-of-plastics-vs.-metals-which-is-better

9. https://tinwaredirect.com/blogs/tips-advice/environmental-impacts-of-plastics-vs-metals

10. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/jan/29/plastic-industry-recycling-learn-from-steel-circular-economy

11. https://www.azahner.com/blog/metal-sustainability

Is Wood More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Wood vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Wood More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Wood vs Plastic Comparison)

This is a guide outlining whether wood is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

We compare some of the key factors involved in the production, usage and waste management of each.

 

Summary – Is Wood More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • Ultimately, whether wood is more sustainable than plastic depends on the application it is being used for, and how it’s sourced, produced and managed on a product or item case by case basis. For example, they might be used as raw or treated building materials, or they may be further fabricated to make furniture and other processed items
  • But, general sustainability consideration for wood vs plastic might be:
  • 1. Sourcing Of Materials – wood comes from a natural and renewable resource, which can also be sourced from sustainably managed stock trees (FSC certification is one example of a sustainably sourced certification). Plastic on the other hand is a synthetic material sourced from fossil fuel feed stock
  • 2. Production – wood may come out ahead in several environmental indicators (such as energy consumption and carbon footprint) compared to plastic in the production stage. Although, there may be some indicators where plastic is more eco friendly in the production process depending on the wood it is being compared to
  • 3. Transport and Delivery – plastic may have a lesser eco footprint when it comes to transport and delivery because it tends to be a far lighter material (comparing the weight of a hard plastic item to a solid wood or timber item)
  • 4. Waste Management – wood is an organic material that has greater potential for re-use and recycling compared to most plastics
  • 5. Pollution – wood is biodegradable and when it becomes waste, it has less potential to create problems associated with pollution. Plastic is not biodegradable, takes a long time to break down, and causes other issues in the environment as mismanaged waste
  • Overall, wood looks like the more sustainable material. However, finished wood products with other materials added like metal and plastic trimming, glues, varnishes etc., have a significantly higher eco footprint [than just wood or timber by itself] (sustainability.stackexchange.com)
  • Note that wood pulp is also used for the production of paper, which we compared to plastic in this guide. Paper has a different sustainability footprint to raw wood, as paper mills are known to not be very eco friendly

 

Examples Of Products With Wood & Plastic Options

  • Building Materials
  • Furniture (chair, bed, table, bench, etc.)
  • Flooring (timber flooring vs vinyl flooring made from PVC)
  • + More

 

Wood vs Plastic: Comparison

  • Sourcing Of Materials – wood comes from trees, which are a renewable natural resource. Trees can be sustainably grown and managed as tree stock. Plastic comes from natural gas and crude oil non renewable fossil fuel feedstock.
  • Production – Wood can be fairly energy efficient in production compared to metal and plastic. Most of the energy used in timber production especially comes in drying the timber (fwpa.com.au). Materials such as concrete, plastic or aluminium, require a lot of energy from fossil fuels to produce compared to timber (reuters.com). Trees also absorb carbon. In addition, there is very little waste when wooden products are made, whether it’s floorboards, furniture, doors, or something else entirely. Any residual chippings can be burned as an energy source, or used as sawdust during manufacture (greenne.com)
  • Delivery & Transport – wood is usually heavier than plastic, which might make delivering and transporting it more expensive, and use more fuel and have a higher carbon footprint. It may also be less space efficient.
  • Usage – it would be interesting to compare the eco impact of the U value or insulation value of timber vs uPVC vs aluminum window frames. But, we couldn’t find any exact figures. It is noted though that the cellular makeup of wood means that it naturally retains heat more effectively than other materials (greenne.com)
  • Waste Management & Recycling -] Timber mills make use of] The entire tree … Bark is removed and used for mulch and decorative landscaping. First cuts and unusable board feet are recovered or culled for use in engineered wood products. Board ends are cut up and sold as hobby wood. Sawdust and shavings are packaged for animal bedding. In some mills, scrap wood is even used to produce energy or steam to keep the mill and kilns running (ironwoods.com). The incineration of timber for energy production can be regarded as CO2 neutral (sustainability.stackexchange.com). In addition, wood is usually able to be upcycled, salvaged, and reclaimed easily from timber mills (used for secondary applications such as mulching and used for landscaping for example, or, off cuts can be used for other uses). Using recycled wood in construction and then burning it as fuel could lead to a reduction in carbon emissions by up to 135 million tonnes a year (reuters.com). Of the approximate 70m tons of wood sent to landfill annually, the US government estimates 30m tons of it could have been reused [and there is potential to reclaim more wood from house remodelling and demolition than what we currently do] (theguardian.com). Plastic can be incinerated, but plastic also usually has a low recycling rate (as low as 9% of total plastic is recycled in some major countries).
  • Pollution – plastic pollution (in the ocean and on land in soil and rivers) is currently a far bigger issue than pollution from wood or timber.
  • Impact On Humans – the potential negative impact of plastic on humans and human health is more significant than wood (additives in plastic like BPA for example is one concern). Micro plastics in the air indoors that humans may inhale are also more closely linked to plastic furniture and textiles.
  • Impact On Wild Life & Environment – plastic, via ingestion and entanglement and leaching of chemicals, probably has a worser impact on wild life than wood. Although, you have to make sure wood doesn’t come from ‘illegal logging or irresponsible deforestation’ (reuters.com)
  • Durability – both materials can last a long time, but hardwood in particular can last up to 100 years as a door (greenne.com)
  • Cost/Economy – both materials are reasonably affordable. Wood can beat out plastic for some product though – ‘Wooden pallets are often less expensive to acquire than plastic pallets, and they are usually able to be used for more extended periods of time’ (palletone.com)
  • Wood vs Plastic In Building, Furniture & Other Applications – Wood is more favorable than most other material substitutes when it comes to global warming potential of different materials in construction and furniture (sustainability.stackexchange.com). Other studies also show wood as being one of the most eco friendly materials across various measures/indicators for building materials, furniture, TV units, window frames, and other applications (fwpa.com.au). Furniture, floors and doors made out of wood require less energy to produce than aluminium or plastic, and on top of that wood continues to store carbon for years … Carbon stored by wood products offsets nearly all of the greenhouse gas emissions related to their production (reuters.com). Wood is by far the superior choice for building in all categories: total energy used to build, occupy, and dispose of; air and water emissions produced during manufacturing; solid waste generated in production and recovery; greenhouse gases produced during manufacturing; ecological resource use (ironwoods.com). In the ironwoods.com resource link below, they have two good tables comparing wood and plastic across various eco and performance indicators

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of wood. Each different type of wood (and wood material, product or item) can have a different sustainability footprint 
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • Whether or not the wood product is made of recycled wood can make a difference. So does salvaging wood where possible
  • How long a wood product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint
  • Sourcing wood from sustainably managed wood stock makes a difference in terms of sustainability – sustainability certification helps in this regard.
  • Wood based products can come made with other materials like glues, plastics, metal, finishes & treatments, etc – all these additional materials and substances can change the sustainability footprint of a wood product (sustainability.stackexchange.com)

 

Sources

1. https://sustainability.stackexchange.com/questions/6896/wood-vs-plastic-vs-metal-furniture-and-other-items-is-the-wood-product-genera

2. https://inhabitat.com/materials-smackdown-whats-greener-wood-metal-or-plastic/

3. https://www.reuters.com/article/climatechange-forests-furniture/ditch-metal-and-plastic-and-turn-to-wood-to-save-the-planet-says-u-n-idUSL8N1A63B3

4. http://www.greenne.com/wood-environmentally-friendly-choice/

5. https://www.palletone.com/why-wood-is-the-most-sustainable-and-durable-material-for-pallets/

6. http://ironwoods.com/woods-vs-plastics/

7. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/recycled-wood-green-sustainable-built-environment

8. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-paper-more-sustainable-than-plastic-comparison/

9. https://www.fwpa.com.au/images/marketaccess/PN03.2103%20furniture%20review%20WEB.pdf

10. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

Is Cardboard More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Cardboard vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Cardboard More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Cardboard vs Plastic Comparison)

This is a guide outlining whether cardboard is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

We compare some of the key factors involved in the production, usage and waste management of each.

 

Summary – Is Cardboard More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • We already put together a guide on the sustainability of paper compared to plastic, but this guide focuses specifically on cardboard
  • Some of the main sustainability considerations for cardboard and plastic might be:
  • 1. Cardboard is sourced from renewable wood pulp (processed into Kraft paper), or recycled cardboard material (cardboard has a high recycling rate). Plastic on the other hand is sourced from non renewable fossil fuels
  • 2. The production process of card board may actually be less environmentally friendly than plastic, as paper mills are historically known for their water and energy use, and use of chemicals. Air and water pollution can also be an issue. Recycled cardboard can cut down on the environmental footprint, but even so, it’s unclear if recycled card board has a lower eco impact than plastic in terms of production. Some sources indicate recycling ‘halves the environmental impact’
  • 3. Plastic might have a lesser carbon footprint for packaging and for transporting and delivering goods than cardboard.
  • 4. Cardboard has a clear sustainability benefit over plastic when it comes to disposal, waste management and end of product or material lifecycle. Cardboard is bio degradable and breaks down much quicker than plastic. It also has a much higher recycling rate.
  • Overall, it depends on the environmental indicator and stage of the product or material lifecycle you are talking about, when considering if plastic or cardboard is more sustainable. Cardboard seems to win out in the sourcing and waste management stage, where as plastic seems to win out in the production stage.

 

How Cardboard Is Used

Cardboard is a heavy duty type of paper, that is usually thicker and more durable than regular paper. It is widely used for:

  • Packaging, storage and box material
  • Tubes for different products like toilet rolls
  • Printed items and products like cards and signs 

Paper stock, paper board and corrugated cardboard are some of the different types of card board.

 

Cardboard vs Plastic: Comparison

  • How They Are Sourced – Cardboard comes from either wood pulp or recycled card board. Plastic comes from non renewable fossil fuel feedstock (crude oil and natural gas). Card board might be more sustainable when sourced through a sustainable forestry initiative or certification
  • Production Footprint – like paper, there has been some effort to make the production of cardboard more sustainable in recent years, but, there is still a reasonable eco footprint with card board (especially when you consider virgin materials and paper mills). Even recycling card board only ‘halves the environmental impact’ (technikpackaging.com)
  • Packaging, Delivery & Transport – cardboard generally has a higher carbon footprint than plastic in packaging and for delivery or products as a packing material (technikpackaging.com). When considered over the lifetime of the packaging, paper and cardboard embody far more greenhouse gases (theguardian.com)
  • Recyclability – some types of cardboard like waxy or dirty/contaminated board is a challenge to recycle, but overall, cardboard has a recycling rate of 85.8 percent in Europe (blog.sappi-psp.com), compared to less than a third of plastic waste in Europe [being] recycled (europarl.europa.eu). Both the plastic and cardboard recycling markets can change in terms of value for recycled materials – which can hinder recycling efforts
  • Other Waste Management Considerations – card board is mostly recycled, while most plastic is sent to land fill. Plastic can also be sent to be incinerated.
  • Pollution In The Environment – plastic is one of the most heavily littered and polluted materials, especially in rivers and oceans. Plastic can have a range of negative effects in the environment, not least is ingestion by and entanglement for marine animals.
  • Biodegradability & Time To Degradecardboard is biodegradable and might only take around 2 months to break down. Plastic on the other hand is not biodegradable and some researchers say plastic may never fully break down.
  • Other Sustainability Factors – plastic also has side effects such as leaching of chemicals (BPA, phthalates, etc.) and a possible impact on human health to consider.
  • Different Types Of Cardboard – one source indicates ‘corrugating medium [cardboard creates the least eco impact], with bleached kraft paperboard creating the most environmental impact (technikpackaging.com)

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of cardboard. Each different type of cardboard can have a different sustainability footprint 
  • Recycled card board can have a different sustainability rating compared to card board made from virgin materials
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long a cardboard product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-paper-more-sustainable-than-plastic-comparison/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-long-it-takes-for-different-materials-everyday-items-to-break-down-degrade/

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardboard

4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/mar/31/plastics-cardboard

5. https://www.sustainabilityexchange.ac.uk/cardboard

6. https://www.packnetltd.com/blog/how-environmentally-friendly-is-corrugated-cardboard/

7. https://www.heritagepaper.net/corrugated-cardboard-and-sustainable-statistics/

8. https://blog.sappi-psp.com/recycling-rate-for-paper-and-cardboard-rises-to-record-levels

9. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20181212STO21610/plastic-waste-and-recycling-in-the-eu-facts-and-figures

10. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-1/Corrugated-Cardboard.html

11. https://www.technikpackaging.com/environmental-impact-packaging-materials/

Is Bamboo More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Bamboo vs Plastic Comparison)

Is Bamboo More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Bamboo vs Plastic Comparison)

This is a guide outlining whether bamboo is more sustainable than plastic, and vice versa.

We compare some of the key factors involved in the production, usage and waste management of each.

 

Summary – Is Bamboo More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • In some ways bamboo is more sustainable than plastic, but there are also some ways that it isn’t
  • Some sustainability points to consider with the two are:
  • 1. Bamboo comes from sustainable and renewable resources in bamboo fibres, whilst conventional plastic comes from non renewable fossil fuel feedstock (and plastic itself itself a synthetic material)
  • 2. Bamboo might actually be more energy intensive and less environmentally friendly to produce than plastic (if we compare bamboo growing and production to organic cotton, where life cycle assessments show it lagging behind plastic across several environmental indicators in the case of plastic bags). A big variable with bamboo production too is whether it is bamboo rayon, and whether the process is closed loop or not
  • 3. Bamboo products that don’t have synthetic chemicals, or treatments or additives, are usually biodegradable and have a much lower impact on the environment when it comes to end of product lifetime i.e. disposal and pollution. Plastic doesn’t break down easily (and when it does, it breaks down into micro and nano plastics), can have an adverse impact in the environment and wildlife if it becomes mismanaged waste (especially in rivers and the ocean)
  • Overall, from a sustainability perspective, closed loop bamboo rayon, and natural bamboo fibres that are sustainably sourced, have more potential to be a circular and sustainable material than conventional plastic.
  • But, individual environmental indicators at each stage of the material life cycle might show each different material being more sustainable in different ways
  • Re-using a bamboo product as many times as possible will average out it’s eco footprint, and obviously addresses waste pollution and litter problems much better than single use plastic (which has a high waste rate)
  • Common products where bamboo might be compared to plastic might be textiles such as clothing (where bamboo fibres and synthetic fibres carrying plastic are used), food carry bags, toothbrushes and other personal care products, furniture, clothes pegs, cutlery, and so on

* This is a generalised guide. Ultimately, each company is going to source and make their plastic and bamboo products and packaging/items in different ways (which impacts their sustainability). How waste is managed and re-used, repurposed or managed also impacts sustainability. In addition to environmental indicators, there can be economic, human health and wild life/eco system indicators that impact sustainability.

 

Bamboo vs Plastic: Comparison

  • How They Are Made/Where They Are Sourced From – bamboo is sourced from renewable bamboo fibres (and can also be sourced from sustainably grown bamboo forests), whereas plastic comes from fossil fuel feed stock (crude oil and natural gas), and plastic is a synthetic material
  • Production – plastic might actually have less of an environmental impact to produce compared to bamboo products (which needs land, water, energy and other resources to be grown, harvested, processed, etc.). A Danish study comparing plastic bags to other types of bags, including cotton and organic cotton bags, showed that plastic has a smaller production footprint than these other materials across several environmental and human toxicity indicators. Organic cotton is comparable in some ways to bamboo as a natural fibre, so this study is worth noting
  • Waste Management – pure or natural bamboo that is not treated with any synthetic additives is usually biodegradable, so can be placed in a green organics bin in some locations. Some plastics are recyclable, but plastic in general in some countries has a low recycling rate.
  • Pollution – a potential source of pollution from bamboo can come from the production process, with the chemicals used to extract bamboo fibres for bamboo rayon. Waste water and other toxic substances can be discharged during this process. For plastic, plastic pollution from litter, micro plastics and inadequately disposed of plastic are significant issues. Leaching of chemicals from plastic may also be a pollution issue, as well as plastic accumulating organic pollutants in the environment
  • Impact On Humans – one concern that is often raised with plastic is the impact it can have on humans via leaching of BPA and other chemicals, with the use of drink bottles in particular. Humans also ingest micro plastics via breathing, and from the water and food supply, but it’s unclear how much of an impact this has on us yet
  • Impact On Wildlife – plastic in the environment can cause ingestion and entanglement issues for wildlife, particularly marine life.

 

Examples Of Products & Items Where Bamboo & Plastic Are Used

There are several other examples too. Plastic vs bamboo packaging is one such example.

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

The Sustainability Of Bamboo

Read more specifically about the sustainability of bamboo in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, bamboo can come from different sources and production processes. Each different source of bamboo can have a different sustainability footprint (depending on how it’s grown, fibres are processed, etc.)
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long a bamboo product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-vs-paper-vs-cotton-vs-other-reusable-bags-comparison-which-is-best/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-plastic-sustainable/

3. https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-73-4.pdf 

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/rayon-vs-viscose-vs-modal-vs-polyester-vs-lyocell-vs-bamboo-whats-the-difference/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/short-guide-about-bamboo-uses-products-growing-more/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-bamboo-eco-friendly-sustainable-for-clothing-fabric-textiles/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

8. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

9. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-pollution-on-land-faq-guide/

Is Silicone More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Plastic vs Silicone Comparison)

Is Silicone More Sustainable Than Plastic? (Plastic vs Silicone Comparison)

We will keep this guide to a summary and a short comparison, as we’ve already discussed the potential answer to this question across this FAQ style guide about silicone.

 

Summary – Is Silicone More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • The answer to this question can differ depending on who you ask. At the very least, it can be controversial
  • Overall, silicone might be slightly more sustainable than plastic in some ways, but it can also present some of the same sustainability issues as plastic in other ways
  • You might like to minimize your use of both materials if possible, but for some uses such as leak proof lids to food containers, a high quality food grade silicone might be the better material
  • The answer can be product and company specific too – not all companies make their silicones to the same standard, or in the same way with the same chemistry
  • Just as one example, a high quality food grade silicone that meets safety regulations, is recyclable, will last many years and uses, and is filler and toxic chemicals free (and that does not leach), is probably more sustainable than most regular plastics 
  • But, it’s also hard to get a true gauge on silicone’s actual sustainability score as there aren’t any comprehensive life cycle assessments (that measure different sustainability indicators) done on it that we could find

*This is just a generalised guide. Each plastic and silicone product is going to present it’s own pros and cons in terms of sustainability depending on what it is made of, and other sustainability measures like how it’s made and how waste can be managed.

 

Plastic vs Silicone: Comparison

The main difference between plastic and silicone is:

  • … most plastics have a polymer backbone of hydrogen and carbon, [but] silicones have a backbone made of silicon and oxygen, and hydrocarbon side groups (lifewithoutplastic.com via bettermeetsreality.com)

From a sustainability perspective, the differences and similarities are:

  • What They Are Made With – Plastics are generally made from fossil fuel feedstock (fossil fuels being a non renewable resource). Silicone is made with the abundant natural resource, silicon. But, is also usually made with hydro carbon groups (methyl groups) from fossil fuels too. 
  • Break Down & Degradation – One of the problems with both materials is that they don’t really break down like organic materials and natural materials do (both plastic and silicone are synthetic materials). Plastic might be worse though because it breaks down into micro plastic and nano plastic.
  • Leaching Of Chemicals For Humans – both materials can have leaching issues with fillers, additives and chemicals, but, food grade silicone might have less leaching issues than most plastics (with some food grade silicones even claiming to have no harmful or toxic chemicals). One source says if you pinch silicone ‘pure silicone does not change color at all, so if any white shows through, there may be fillers in your product.’ (earthhero.com)
  • Impact In The Environment – Plastic can have a range of negative effects in the environment. Various sources say silicone compounds can be prevalent in the environment too (wikipedia.org via bettermeetsreality.com), but probably less than plastic, especially in the area of micro plastics
  • Recyclability – neither material has high recycling rates. Although some types of plastic in some countries, and some specific silicone brands, do get recycled. Most silicone often can’t or wont be recycled through regular municipal recycling streams, and plastic often has it’s own issues with contamination, and so on
  • Biodegradable – neither material is biodegradable
  • Material Lifespan In Use – various sources say high grade silicone usually lasts longer than regular plastics, and resists deterioration (clearandwell.com). So, this averages out it’s environmental footprint somewhat

 

If Not Silicone, Then What To Use?

  • Silicone may actually be the best option for specific uses like leak proof food container lids in some instances (compared to plastic … and, it helps if it’s a guarantee the silicone won’t leach and contains no bad or harmful chemicals)
  • It’s also possible that as a re-usable material, silicone can come out on top of other materials (especially single use or limited use materials) if used enough times
  • But, for other applications and products, look for alternative materials where available/possible, that either come completely from natural renewable resources (that aren’t synthetic and that don’t have additives or fillers), have a high recycling rate, are biodegradable or compostable. Stainless steel might be one example

 

The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more specifically about the sustainability of plastic in this guide.

 

Other Factors To Consider

  • Just as there is different types of plastic, there are different types of silicone. Each different type of silicone can have a different sustainability footprint
  • Using recycled silicone for new silicone products is something which we didn’t explore in this guide
  • The waste management systems, facilities and technology in a given country or State make a difference to the sustainability not just of different materials, but different waste items and products (because of how different waste materials and items are processed among the different disposal options at different rates)
  • How long a silicone product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-is-silicone-is-it-sustainable-safe/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-plastic-sustainable/

3. https://clearandwell.com/why-choose-silicone-instead-of-plastic/

4. https://earthhero.com/silicone-the-plastic-alternative/

What Is Silicone, & Is It Sustainable & Safe?

What Is Silicone, & Is It Sustainable & Safe?

In this guide, we outline what silicone is.

We also look at how sustainable silicone is, and whether it might be safe for human use (mainly from the perspective of using it for food and beverage/kitchen products, and also for contact with humans, such as with baby bottle nipples and feeders).

 

Summary – What Is Silicone, & Is It Sustainable & Safe?

  • Silicone is a polymer with a silicon backbone that can take several forms, such as a fluid, a gel, a rubber or a resin
  • Silicone is not technically a plastic or a rubber, but, it does usually possess properties from both materials, such as the elasticity of rubbers, or the malleability of plastics (plus other properties, depending on how the silicone chemistry is altered to suit the end use or application)
  • Silicone is used across a wide range of applications, with two examples of common everyday uses being as a sealant or glue around the house, and as a rubber in lids and containers for food and beverages. Baby bottle nipples and baby feeders are further examples
  • Silicone might be seen as slightly more sustainable than plastic in some ways. But, most silicones are still made with methyl group attached, and methyl groups generally originate from crude oil. In addition, many silicones can’t or aren’t recycled via regular municipal recycling systems. So, silicone doesn’t appear to be the most sustainable material in some ways, and certainly has some of the same sustainability concerns as plastic. 
  • There are differing reports on just how safe silicone is for human health. Major organisations often indicate it is safe in the current exposure levels in society. individual companies that sell silicone products can also indicate it doesn’t have the same leaching issues (of BPA, BPS, etc) or toxicity issues that plastic might have. However, other research and analysis suggests that the safety of silicone is still questionable in some ways, especially when it is exposed to very high temperatures, or oil and substances with a high fat content
  • Some conclusions about silicone say that we should be cautious about using it, especially silicones that come into contact with us, or our food. At the very least, we might research the silicone brand and material we intend on buying and using to know exactly what we are getting.
  • We might look at using alternative (more sustainable) materials to silicone where possible
  • Re-usable silicone that has a long life span and is re-used many times, may be more beneficial than other materials in some instances
  • But, it’s also hard to get a true gauge on silicone’s actual sustainability score as there aren’t any comprehensive life cycle assessments (that measure different sustainability indicators) done on it that we could find

*There are new silicone products emerging that are claiming to be made from 100% natural chemicals, as well recyclable, and BPA, BPS, phthalate, lead, latex and leachate/toxics free. Always do your own research on the individual silicone product, and investigate these claims for yourself for each individual type of silicone, product and company (as they can differ). Also, note that there are many different types of silicone that have to meet different legislative regulations, such as medical grade vs food grade silicone – so, understand the type of silicone you are using and understand the relevant safety regulations and approvals yourself. This guide is a general guide, and not expert or professional advice.

 

Difference Between Silicon, & Silicone

Apart from the ‘e’, the difference is:

  • Silicon is one natural element that makes up the synthetic material silicone (so, silicon is one part of silicone)

 

  • Silicon is a naturally occuring chemical element that makes up silicone, along with other elements such as oxygen, and carbon and hydrogen 
  • … [silicon is a naturally occurring chemical element, whereas silicone is a synthetic substance]

– livescience.com

 

What Is Silicone? (What Is It Made Of Chemically?)

Explaining what silicone is from a scientific or chemistry perspective can get very complicated and technical.

So, here are a few of the more simple and shorter explanations:

  • Silicones have unique properties amongst polymers because of the simultaneous presence of organic groups attached to a chain of inorganic atoms … Silicones are synthetic polymers with a silicon-oxygen backbone similar to that in silicon dioxide (silica), but with organic groups attached to the silicon atoms by C-Si bonds.  The silicone chain exposes organic groups to the outside. Silicone is, at it’s core, a silicon compound (essentialchemicalindustry.org)
  • Silicone is a synthetic polymer made up of silicon, oxygen and other elements, most typically carbon and hydrogen (livescience.com)
  • Silicones are inorganic polymers, that is, there are no carbon atoms in the backbone chain. The backbone [of silicone] is a chain of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms. Each silicone has two groups attached to it, and these can be any organic groups (pslc.ws)
  • Silicones, also known as polysiloxanes, are polymers that include any synthetic compound made up of repeating units of siloxane, which is a chain of alternating silicon atoms and oxygen atoms, combined with carbon, hydrogen, and sometimes other elements (en.wikipedia.org)

 

Read more on the chemical makeup of silicone at:

  • http://www.essentialchemicalindustry.org/polymers/silicones.html

 

Types & Forms Of Silicone

From a general perspective, silicones we use mainly come in the form of:

  • fluids
  • gels
  • rubbers
  • and resins

– essentialchemicalindustry.org

 

From a chemistry perspective, the types of silicones we use most commonly are:

  • Silane, siloxan, and poly(diphenylsiloxane)
  • The most widely used silicones are those which have methyl groups along the backbone

– essentialchemicalindustry.org

 

What Is Silicone Used For?

  • Silicones are used in many industries including … electronics, paints, construction and food … (essentialchemicalindustry.org)
  • [Silicone is used in the medical field, in personal care items, kitchenware, cookware coatings (because of non stick properties) food and beverage containers, lubricant for automotive parts, and more] (livescience.com)
  • Silicone can be used to make malleable rubber-like items, hard resins, and spreadable fluids … Silicone is often used for baby nipples, cookware, bakeware, utensils, and toys. Silicones are also used for insulation, sealants, adhesives, lubricants, gaskets, filters, medical applications (e.g., tubing), and casing for electrical components (lifewithoutplastic.com)

 

Features & Properties Of Silicone

Silicone can have a range of properties and features depending on how it’s chemistry is altered (to suit an end use or application):

  • Properties such as solubility in organic solvents, water-repellence and flexibility can be altered by substituting other organic groups for the methyl groups.  For example, silicones with phenyl groups are more flexible polymers than those with methyl groups.  They are also better lubricants and are superior solvents for organic compounds.

– essentialchemicalindustry.org

 

Silicone in general has:

  • Low toxicity and high heat resistance. It also provides good electrical insulation (livescience.com)
  • … many plastic-like properties: flexibility, malleability, clarity, temperature resistance, water resistance … it is a unique plastic because it is much more temperature resistant and durable than most plastics and has a low reactivity with chemicals. And while water resistant, it is also highly gas permeable, making it useful for medical or industrial applications where air flow is required. It’s also easy-to-clean, non-stick, and non-staining, making it popular for cookware and kitchen utensils (lifewithoutplastic.com)

 

Silicone elastomers specifically have:

  • … high temperature resistance, excellent environmental resistance, low compression set, low level of flammable components, high physiological inertness, poor abrasion, poor oil/petroleum resistance (silicone.co.uk)

 

Silicone bags can be:

  • … lightweight, flexible, stretchy, washable, waterproof

– treehugger.com

 

Silicone bakeware can be:

  • Highly functional, and can handle hot and cold temperatures
  • Microwave and dishwasher safe
  • Non stick – can skip greasing

– livegreen.recyclebank.com

 

Ecolunchboxes.com notes that silicone may be the answer to food container lids that don’t leak, and don’t leach chemicals like plastic might.

 

What About The Properties Of Food Grade Silicone Specifically?

It depends on the company and the individual food silicone product (specifically, how they make their silicone).

But some select silicone food grade products might have the following properties, or features …

 

  • Not a “100% natural” material like rubber
  • Is a non-toxic polymer mostly made from silica (sand).
  • Can withstand heating and freezing without leaching or off-gassing, hazardous chemicals – unlike plastics, which contaminate food in these environments.
  • It is also odor- and stain-resistant, hypoallergenic, and because of it’s smooth surface, very easy to clean.
  • For these reasons, and because it is soft life rubber and does not break, it is the perfect material for eco-friendly and non-toxic baby products in particular

– forbes.com

 

Food grade silicone made by some companies might be:

  • Highly resistant to damage
  • Highly resistant to degradation from high temperatures
  • Doesn’t harden, crack, peel, crumble, dry out, rot or become brittle over time
  • Lightweight
  • Non-toxic and odorless – contains no BPA, latex, lead, or phthalates
  • May be 100% recycled at select locations
  • Considered a non-hazardous waste

– stasherbag.com [note, Stasherbag does a specific type of food grade silicone called platinum food grade silicone – Stasher products are made of 100% pure platinum grade silicone — a standard even higher than food grade silicone, passing all U.S. safety requirements and even tougher European standards]

 

Some benefits of food grade silicone, and tips for choosing and using silicone dishes can be found at https://clearandwell.com/is-silicone-toxic/

 

Is Silicone A Plastic? What’s The Difference?

Silicone is not technically a plastic, but has several close similarities (different sources refer to it as a plastic because of this), as well as some differences.

The specific differences are:

  • … most plastics have a polymer backbone of hydrogen and carbon, [but] silicones have a backbone made of silicon and oxygen, and hydrocarbon side groups (lifewithoutplastic.com)
  • Silicone is something of a hybrid between a synthetic rubber and a synthetic plastic polymer (lifewithoutplastic.com)
  • The key difference from the common carbon-based plastics … is that silicones have a backbone made of silicon … while most plastics have a polymer backbone of hydrogen and carbon, silicones have a backbone made of silicon and oxygen, and hydrocarbon side groups – all of which gives them plastic-like characteristics (lifewithoutplastic.com)
  • [silicone is not plastic, and is closer to the rubber family than plastic]

 

Is Silicone A Rubber?

Like the plastic section above, silicone is not technically a rubber, but displays close similarities:

  • The correct way to describe silicone might be an ‘elastomer’, that displays elastic properties [like rubber] (silicone.co.uk)

 

Read more on silicone and synthetic rubbers in these resources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicone_rubber
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_rubber 

 

Is Silicone Sustainable?

On one hand, there can be some sustainable aspects to silicone:

  • [Silicone is made in part with silicon, which] … is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, after oxygen (livescience.com)
  • [Some pure platinum food grade silicones are]… made from sand (silica) and carbon, natural resources (stasherbag.com)
  • [Some silicone products are food-grade silicone [that] is made without petroleum-based chemicals, BPA, BPS, or fillers] (stasherbag.com)
  • If disposed of at a landfill for incineration, the silicone (unlike plastic) is converted back into inorganic, harmless ingredients: amorphous silica, carbon dioxide, and water vapor (ecolunchboxes.com)
  • [Compared to plastics, silicone is longer lasting and endures extreme fluctuations in temperature without melting, cracking or otherwise degrading, and, it resists oxidative deterioration (normal aging) for decades on end … these things increase it’s product lifecycle] (clearandwell.com)

 

On the other hand, there are non sustainable aspects to silicone:

  • But, most silicones use methyl groups attached to the backbone. [Methyl groups are hydrocarbon groups, and, most hydrocarbons found on Earth naturally occur in crude oil] (en.wikipedia.org)
  • [Silicone does] contain silica, which is derived from sand, it also contains synthetic and chemical additives that come from fossil fuels (treehugger.com)
  • Silicone does not biodegrade or decompose (certainly not in our lifetimes). Silicones are very persistent in the environment (lifewithoutplastic.com)
  • Silicone compounds are pervasive in the environment. Particular silicone compounds, cyclic siloxanes D4 and D5, are air and water pollutants and have negative health effects on test animals (en.wikipedia.org)
  • Some silicone products can be recycled in regular recycling, while most silicone products need specialised privatised recycling (and have a low recycling rate)

 

Is Silicone Safe? (Toxicity, BPA, & Human Health Concerns)

Some major organisations indicate that silicone is safe with the current exposure levels in society.

  • … the FDA considers normal use of undamaged silicone cookware and other items to be safe (healthline.com)
  • Health Canada confirms … silicone does not react with food or drinks or produce any hazardous fumes (clearandwell.com)

 

But, some independent research and studies question this stance.

  • … there has not been a lot of research done to date on the health effects of silicone … [But, independent research and review of peer-reviewed scientific studies shows] they can leach certain synthetic chemicals at low levels, and the leaching is increased with fatty substances, such as oils [and food with fatty content] … silicone is not as inert, stable and chemically unreactive as many claim (lifewithoutplastic.com)
  • Some studies indicate even food grade silicone can leach siloxanes when exposed to very high heat, and fat (thetot.com)
  • … there haven’t really been many in-depth or subsequent studies into [silicone’s] long-term effects … [but there are] reasons to indicate that “we should begin to be cautious about silicone.” … One study tested the release of siloxanes from silicone nipples and bakeware into milk, baby formula and a simulant solution of alcohol and water [and, after 72 hours, there were results that raised some questions] (treehugger.com)
  • Kitchen and bakeware products made from silicone are often marketed on the basis that they’re safe. They’re non-toxic, inert, can be heated as well as frozen and do not release any odours into food when cooking … However, some concerns still linger around the safety of silicone. For example, there is concern that, when heated to high temperatures (above 149oC) silicone becomes less stable. It may also leach certain undesirable compounds known as siloxanes … Further studies are needed before we have a more complete picture of any health risks posed by silicone (ecoandbeyond.co)

 

Potential tips on dealing with silicone if you are worried about health concerns might be …

  • Use [silicone] with caution, and if you can find an alternative, use it  
  • … use high quality, relatively stable [silicone] material, and leaching of chemicals from other plastics is of much greater concern
  • … use high quality, food grade or medical grade silicone
  • … other options are glass, ceramic and stainless steel options for cooking and baking

Basic tips for using silicone can be found at https://lifewithoutplastic.com/silicone/

 

  • Try food safe/food grade silicone for plates, cups and mealtime travel gear (it is claimed to be non toxic and doesn’t leach or off gas)
  • Glass and metal work well for baby bottles
  • BPA substitutes can be hazardous to health – so watch out for BPS and similar substitutes

– forbes.com

 

  • Silicones do play a useful role as seals or gaskets in many reusable containers, but these do not generally come into contact with the food and are a tolerable use of the product.

– treehugger.com

 

Specific silicone food grade products from some companies are claimed to have the following features [so you may look for companies and products with similar claims and research if they are accurate for yourself]:

  • No fillers or toxic products in Stasher bags — no BPA, BPS, lead, latex, or phthalates
  • Food grade silicone is a non-toxic type of silicone that doesn’t contain any chemical fillers or byproducts, making it safe for use with food. 

– stasherbag.com

 

Prepol.com makes a good point about silicone safety and compliance:

  • … manufacturers of silicone components must demonstrate – on an individual basis – the compliance of the finished product
  • [this is because] there is no automatic universal ‘approval’ of all silicone products or manufacturers
  • [in addition, bodies like the FDA in the case of the US, are responsible to protect the public from food hazards – where we are looking at silicone as a food grade product … so we can look at what these bodies have to say too]

 

Is Silicone Recyclable?

  • Silicones are recyclable, but have a low recycling rate and are generally not recyclable through the average local recycling program … usually specialized private recycling companies downcycle silicone into oil

– lifewithoutplastic.com

 

  • [some companies offer recyclable silicone products, and even offer to recycle and repurpose it themselves ]

– stasherbag.com

 

  • While there is nothing about silicone chemically that would prevent it from being recycled, curbside recycling programs rarely accept it, and it can be difficult to find a silicone recycler to accept post-consumer products. This is because many consumers confuse polyurethane with silicone.

– livegreen.recyclebank.com

 

Sources

1. https://www.livescience.com/37598-silicon-or-silicone-chips-implants.html

2. http://www.essentialchemicalindustry.org/polymers/silicones.html

3. https://lifewithoutplastic.com/silicone/

4. https://pslc.ws/macrog/silicone.htm

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicone

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_rubber

7. https://silicone.co.uk/news/is-silicone-a-rubber/

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicone_rubber

9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methyl_group

10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrocarbon

11. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateharrison/2015/06/18/1874/#77c8b44f71f4

12. https://www.thetot.com/baby/is-silicone-safe/

13. https://www.stasherbag.com/blogs/stasher-life/food-grade-silicone-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-better-than-plastic

14. https://www.stasherbag.com/pages/faq

15. https://www.treehugger.com/green-home/silicone-safe-alternative-single-use-plastics.html

16. https://www.biome.com.au/806-silicone-drinking-straws

17. https://livegreen.recyclebank.com/column/because-you-asked/what-is-silicone-and-how-green-is-it

18. https://ecolunchboxes.com/pages/silicone-people-planet

19. https://www.prepol.com/news/restricted-news/is-silicone-food-safe

20. https://www.ecoandbeyond.co/articles/silicone-vs-plastic/

21. https://clearandwell.com/why-choose-silicone-instead-of-plastic/

22. https://clearandwell.com/is-silicone-toxic/

23. https://www.healthline.com/health/body-modification/is-silicone-toxic#symptoms

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