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

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

This is a guide discussing whether glass 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 Glass More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • There’s a few main points to consider when is comes to comparing the sustainability of paper and plastic …
  • 1. Glass tends to come from renewable and abundant resources like limestone, sand, soda ash, and other source materials, compared to plastic which comes from mainly non renewable petrochemicals and other additives
  • 2. Plastic is probably cheaper and has less of an eco footprint to produce, transport and sell/buy overall for businesses and consumers because of factors like how light plastic is, how flexible and durable it is as a material, and less energy and resources required to produce single use plastic compared to glass which tends to be heavier and needs to be melted at high temperatures in a furnace (using recycled glass/waste glass/broken glass/glass cullet can reduce the environmental impact of producing glass – but there are challenges and costs involved with obtaining suitable and reasonably priced recycled glass, along with glass recycling presenting other issues to do with mixing glass, contamination, and so on)
  • 3. Plastic is recycled at a lower rate in general than glass (but it depends on the country, and type of glass or plastic item in question), and plastic also seems to be littered and inadequately disposed of into the environment in greater quantities than glass. Plastic, once in the environment, seems to be less eco and wild life friendly than glass. Glass can be recycled infinitely whilst plastic can only be recycled a certain amount of times before it loses integrity and quality. Plastic though, can sometimes be more eco friendly to send to landfill or incinerate. Both materials take an extremely long time to break down, but plastic can break into micro and nano plastics that get into food and water supplies, and plastic can absorb and transport organic pollutants as litter or ocean debris.
  • From an environmental perspective, how sustainable glass and plastic are might depend on the exact environmental indicator you are measuring (greenhouse emissions, energy use, water use, waste generated, etc), what stage of the product or material lifecycle you are referring to, the item you are talking about (a bottle, a container, etc.), the country you are referring to (the US, UK, a european country, and so on), and other variables. Food and beverage type glass especially probably has more potential to be a material that is part of a circular economy compared to plastic, but in some countries, the recycling and waste management systems aren’t set up to optimise glass recycling. 
  • Outside of environmental indicators and measurements of sustainability, plastic tends to cost less and be easier in general for businesses to produce and transport as part of their products. Plastic is probably the more profitable material for most businesses to use.
  • Plastic may present issues to human health in terms of leaching of BPA and other chemicals when used in plastic bottles, containers, etc., plus potential issues with micro and nano plastics. Glass presents less of these issues.
  • Plastic may also lead to ingestion by, and entanglement for wild life and marine life. Whereas, glass doesn’t seem to lead to as many problems for wild life


Glass vs Plastic: Comparison


The Sustainability Of Plastic

Read more 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 glass. Each different type of glass can have a different sustainability footprint
  • Using recycled glass like cullet makes a difference to sustainability compared to using glass purely from virgin resources
  • 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 glass product or item lasts, or how many times it can be used/re-used before being thrown out, impacts it’s sustainability footprint


















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