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?


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


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



[Stainless steel can be recycled, but may still use new/virgin material in stainless steel products]:

Today, stainless steel is made up of approximately 60% recycled content including:

  • 25% reclaimed scrap
  • 35% industrial scrap
  • 40% new raw materials



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






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