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

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

This is a guide discussing whether paper 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 Paper More Sustainable Than Plastic?

  • There’s a few main points to consider when is comes to comparing the sustainability of paper and plastic …
  • 1. Paper tends to come from a renewable resource in wood pulp, and other cellulose fibres. Plastic tends to come from non renewable feedstock in petrochemicals like crude oil and natural gas.
  • 2. The manufacturing/production of paper products tends to be far less environmentally friendly than plastic across several environmental indicators. Although there has been a recent push to make paper production more sustainable, it has a history of significant environmental pollution (some paper mills have been among the top polluters in the world in terms of water pollution, air pollution, and more), along with water consumption and energy use
  • 3. Paper tends to do worse at the delivery, transport and packaging stage. Plastic is lighter and also tends to have less of a carbon footprint at this stage
  • 4. Plastic tends to fare worse environmentally at the waste management and disposal, as well as pollution phases, because of how widely plastic is littered, how long it takes to break down, and the potential impact plastic can have in the environment and on wild life. Paper can be recycled and is biodegradable, but paper recycling only does a certain amount to reduce it’s environmental footprint
  • From an environmental perspective, how sustainable paper and plastic are might depend on the exact environmental indicator you are measuring (greenhouse emissions, energy use, water use, waste generated, etc), and at what stage of the product or material lifecycle you are referring to 
  • Outside of environmental indicators and measurements of sustainability, paper tends to cost more for businesses and consumers to produce and 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
  • Plastic may also lead to ingestion by, and entanglement for wild life

 

Paper vs Plastic: Comparison

  • What They Are Made Of – Most paper comes from wood pulp, where as most plastic comes from petrochemicals such as crude oil or natural gas
  • Cost – usually because paper is more energy intensive in production, it costs more than plastic (bankrate.com)
  • How Each Is Made – both paper and plastic involves the use of chemicals and additives at the production stage. Paper often uses a chemical pulp (to separate lignin from the cellulose fibres), along with other chemicals (bleaches, chlorates, etc.), fillers and additives at various stages. Plastic also uses chemicals, fillers and additives depending on the type of plastic being made and the properties that it’s being designed to have. 
  • Energy Use In Manufacturing – paper bags use almost three times as much energy in the manufacturing process as plastic bags (bankrate.com), and some sources say four times as much energy (reusuablebags.com/science.howstuffworks.com). Worldwide, the pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for four percent of the entire world’s energy use (packnetltd.com). In the UK, the paper products sector used almost as much energy as the rubber and plastics sector combined in 2016
  • Waste During Manufacturing – paper bags cause more waste in the manufacturing process than plastic bags (bankrate.com)
  • Air Pollution During Production – paper production … emits 70 percent more air pollution than the production of plastic bags (Thompson/science.howstuffworks.com)
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions During Manufacturing – some studies indicate paper manufacturing emits 80% more GHGs than plastic (Lilienfield/science.howstuffworks.com)
  • Water Pollutants During Manufacturing – making paper bags results in 50 times more water pollutants than making plastic bags (Thompson/science.howstuffworks.com)
  • Water Consumption During Manufacturing – The production of paper bags uses three times the amount of water it takes to make plastic bags (Lilienfield/science.howstuffworks.com). The pulp and paper industry is the largest single commercial user of water in Canada (packnetltd.com)
  • Overall Environmental Impact Of Paper Mills – overall, paper mills are some of the worst polluters in the world (packnetltd.com). Read more about the environmental impact of paper at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_paper#Air_pollution
  • Weight – paper weighs 10 times as much as plastic (bankrate.com)
  • Transportation Footprint – Paper bags … weigh more than plastic; this means transportation requires more energy, adding to their carbon footprint (bbc.com)
  • Packaging & Delivery – a company found it could reduce it’s carbon footprint by 70 percent by switching from paper and cardboard packaging to plastic … and that recycling paper only halves the environmental impact (technikpackaging.com)
  • Recycling Rate – paper has a higher recycling rate in the US at 64.7 percent, compared to plastic which had a recycling rate of 9.1% in 2015 in the US (thebalancesmb.com)
  • How Many Times Each Can Be Recycledboth plastic and paper can only be recycled a finite number of times before needing to be downcycled, or sent to landfill, or incinerated. Both lose their economic value and quality after repeated recycling
  • Ease Of Recycling – some sources say paper bags are easier to recycle than plastic bags (bankrate.com)
  • Production Of Waste – paper bags generate 80 percent more solid waste [than plastic (Lilienfield/science.howstuffworks.com)
  • Other Recycling Challenges – paper recycling can be inefficient, with new paper bags using less fuel than recycled bags. Furthermore, it takes roughly  91 percent more energy to recycle a pound of paper than a pound of plastic (Milstein/reusablebags.com/science.howstuffworks.com)
  • Degradation Rate In Landfill – In a dry landfill, paper bags don’t degrade any faster than plastic bags. In a normal, well-run landfill, paper bags do not biodegrade any faster over at least 40 years than plastic (bankrate.com)
  • Time To Break Down In Landfills Or In The Environment – different paper items usually take a week to a few months to break down, where as plastic items take multiple to thousands of years, and some scientists believe plastic never fully goes away (responsiblecapetown.co.za, oceanconservancy.org)
  • Filling Up Space In Landfill – Paper bags are much bulkier than plastic [bags], so they fill up more landfill space/take up more volume (bankrate.com)
  • Most Commonly Found Material During Land & Beach Clean Upsplastic items are some of the most commonly found items on cleanups, but paper bags can sometimes be found too (bettermeetsreality.com) 
  • Marine Debris Found In The Ocean & On BeachesPlastic as a material makes up about 60-80% of all marine debris (bettermeetsreality.com)
  • Potential Effects On Humans & Animals – the potential impact of plastic on human health and wild life may be more significant than paper (bettermeetsreality.com)
  • Lifecycle Assessments Of Plastic Bags vs Paper Bagsplastic bags have a better environmental impact across a range of eco and human toxicity indicators than paper bags, unless paper bags can be re-used a certain amount of times
  • Durability Of Paper Items – paper can get wet, and might tear more easily than other materials. Other materials like plastic, metal, glass etc. might be more durable
  • Paper vs Plastic Bags Overall Environmental Impact – Plastic bags come out on the right side of the equation on everything except the recycling side (bankrate.com)

 

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 paper. Each different type of paper can have a different sustainability footprint
  • Using recycled paper makes a difference to sustainability compared to using paper from virgin resources
  • Sourcing paper from a sustainably managed forest or tree stock makes a difference in the sustainability of producing and using paper
  • Paper is made with different additives to control different features of the paper such as it’s size, thickness, and density, what it looks like, it’s printability, how strong it is, and so on. These things can impact sustainability
  • Paper can come with ink or printing on it, and it can be bleached. These things impact sustainability
  • 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 paper 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.thebalancesmb.com/paper-recycling-facts-figures-and-information-sources-2877868#targetText=Paper%20Recycling%20Facts%2C%20Figures%20and%20Information%20Sources,-%E2%80%A2%E2%80%A2%E2%80%A2&targetText=Over%2068%20million%20tons%20of,continues%20to%20improve%20over%20time

2. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/plastic-recycling-facts-and-figures-2877886#targetText=The%20recycling%20rate%20of%20various,the%20U.S.%20in%20that%20year

3. https://www.bankrate.com/finance/smart-spending/paper-plastic-whats-environmentally-correct-choice.aspx

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-commonly-littered-items-in-society-land-rivers-beaches-oceans/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-common-types-of-waste-found-in-oceans-on-beaches/

6. https://responsiblecapetown.co.za/zero-waste-to-landfill-can-we-do-it/

7. https://oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/outreach-education/

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

9. https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/paper-plastic1.htm

10. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47027792#targetText=Despite%20its%20low%20durability%2C%20one,and%201%2C000%20years%20to%20decompose

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

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

13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper

14. http://www.csun.edu/~pjd77408/DrD/resources/Printing/PaperMade.html

15. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-many-times-can-you-recycle-different-materials-plastic-paper-metal-glass-etc/

16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_paper#Air_pollution

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

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

19. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/which-sectors-industries-use-the-most-energy-electricity/

What Stage Of A Product’s Life Cycle Has The Most Environmental Impact?

What Stage Of A Product's Life Cycle Has The Most Environmental Impact?

There are many life cycle assessments and studies out there on different products.

But, what is not as commonly discussed or emphasized is the environmental impact at each stage of the product life cycle.

Different products have different outputs at each stage, so, different products also have the potential to have their processes changed or improved differently at each stage as a result.

This guide looks at examples of different products in regards to environmental impact at each stage, and potential for improvement.

 

Summary – Stage Of A Product’s Lifestycle With The Most Environmental Impact

  • Generally, products that don’t use fuel, electricity/energy, or consumables during use, have the most environmental impact during product manufacture. An example of a product of this nature might be a T Shirt.
  • But, other products like cars, appliances and electrical items, or printers (that need ink and toner), might have a higher environmental impact at the product usage stage
  • Some products, especially more raw products like certain metals, may have a heavy impact at the material sourcing and fabrication stage, due to the extraction, refining and fabrication processes of ores and metals using so much energy
  • There can be different environmental indicators or measurables being measured in one life cycle assessment, such as CO2 emissions and global warming impact, non renewable energy use, water consumption, air pollution, water pollution, resource depletion, and so on. Human health indicators can also be measured, as well as economic, wild life and other indicators.
  • Every product, company, supply chain and life cycle assessment has different variables to consider, and assumptions to make, that can change the outcome of the final environmental impact numbers. Just one is example is the number of times a piece of clothing is assumed to be worn before being thrown out and buying new clothing
  • Overall, identifying stages that have the most environmental impact can be an extremely effective and efficient way to make improvements to products that lead to more eco friendly products and processes

 

3 Different Product Life Cycle Examples

Car Navigation System

  • https://www.alpine.com/e/csr/contribution/environment/environment02.html

Printers

  • https://www.kyoceradocumentsolutions.com/ecology/product/lca.html 

Clothing (In Sweden)

  • https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/whats-environmental-footprint-t-shirt-180962885/

 

How The 3 Product Life Cycles Differ At Each Stage In Terms Of Environmental Impact

Car Navigation System

  • Life cycle assessment measures CO2 emissions at each stage. Those results found that emissions were greatest at the ‘Use’ stage because the navigation system consumed power at this stage.
  • The full CO2 emission totals at each stage were:
  • Manufacture Of Material – 35,219 (grams of CO2 emissions)
  • Assembly Of Parts – 13,555
  • Shipment – 1,246
  • Use – 139,087 (110,847 came from an electrical origin, and 28,240 from a weight origin) 
  • Waste – 29

 

Printers

  • Life cycle assessment measures global warming-causing emissions at each stage of the product life cycle for two different Kyocera printer models. Emissions were greatest at the ‘Material Manufacturing’ stage for both, but were followed closely by ‘Usage’

 

  • The full CO2 emission totals at each stage for the older TASKalfa 256i were:
  • Material Manufacturing – 291 (CO2 equivalent in kg)
  • Product Manufacturing – 86
  • Distribution – 12
  • Usage (electricity) – 145
  • Usage (consumables, like toner) – 121
  • Disposal – 2

 

  • The full CO2 emission totals at each stage for the newer and improved TASKalfa 2510i are:
  • Material Manufacturing – 276 (CO2 equivalent in kg)
  • Product Manufacturing – 32
  • Distribution – 11
  • Usage (electricity) – 100
  • Usage (consumables, like toner) – 121
  • Disposal – 2
  • (Overall 115 CO2 equivalent kg of reduction)

The emissions reduction from the first model to the second model was 115 CO2 equivalent kgs, or, a 17% total emissions reduction

 

Clothing (In Sweden)

Life cycle assessment measures climate impact generated by Swedes during various stages of the clothing lifecycle:

  • Production – 70%
  • Distribution – 4%
  • Consumer Transport (to and from the store) – 22%
  • Laundry – 3%
  • Disposal – 1%

Variables for clothing include duration of wear, features of the fibres, printing and other treatments done to the fabric, number of washes.

 

How There May Be Potential To Improve A Stage, Or Stages, Of Product Life Cycles

Improvements being made or made in the above examples include:

  • Car Navigation System – Alpine states they are ‘working to reduce the energy consumption (through reduction of number of parts), size, and weight of our products.’
  • Printers – The emissions reduction from the first model to the second model printer was 115 CO2 equivalent kgs, or, a 17% total emissions reduction. Kyocera ‘developed [their] own unique controller technology for managing power consumption, and achieved a major reduction of 30%’
  • Clothing – the number of times consumers wear a garment before throwing it out, how greatly spin dyeing can reduce water use compared to wet dyeing, or how much smaller the carbon footprint of fabric made from dissolved wood cellulose is, compared to cotton – are all important variables to decrease environmental impact of clothing (smithsonianmag.com)

These are good examples of how companies (and third parties or even consumers) can be most effective with trying to make products more environmentally friendly, by identifying the key stages with the most environmental impact or harm, and focussing on solutions to reduce or eliminate that impact. Although, there is sometimes trade offs to consider, such as cost, efficiency, performance, aesthetics, and so on.

 

Sources

1. https://www.alpine.com/e/csr/contribution/environment/environment02.html

2. https://www.kyoceradocumentsolutions.com/ecology/product/lca.html .

3. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/whats-environmental-footprint-t-shirt-180962885/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-is-a-lifecycle-assessment-how-do-you-do-one-with-examples/

Is Plastic Sustainable?

Is Plastic Sustainable?

In this guide, we discuss whether plastic is sustainable across a range of measures and areas.

 

Summary – Is Plastic Sustainable?

  • Plastic can surprisingly be sustainable in some ways, but not so surprisingly, lack sustainability in other ways
  • How sustainable plastic is depends on the type of plastic, and also the plastic product or item that is being assessed
  • But, there are also general sustainability trends with all types of conventional plastics
  • The production footprint of (energy used, emissions, etc) of plastic can be more sustainable than other materials in several ways (metals and paper, just to name two). The transport and delivery footprint (cost, fuel used, packing space efficiency, etc) of plastic also tends to be good compared to other materials because of the light weight and properties of plastic. There are numerous studies that show plastic as having a better eco footprint than other alternative materials for packaging, and consumer items like drink bottles and bags (just to name a few products)
  • But, the fact that conventional plastic comes from fossil fuel feedstock, it has a low recycling rate in some major countries, it is a commonly littered and polluted material in some countries, and the range of other potential effects plastic can have on humans, wild life and the environment, makes it unsustainable in a number of ways
  • The sustainability of plastic may change over time with variables like new plastic chemistry and designs, better ways to dispose of and manage or re-use plastic waste, and so on. But, there may also be some hard limitations of how sustainable plastic can ultimately become as well
  • The reality with plastic is that it is everywhere around us, we use it for some really important applications in society, it allows us to do beneficial things that other materials can’t or can only do at an extreme cost or with extreme difficulty, and it is likely to be a part of our short and long term future in some way, shape or form (read more about the general pros and cons of plastic in this guide). So, we may need to look at how we can best manage our use of existing plastics, and new plastics, rather than trying to get rid of plastic altogether

 

How We Might Measure Or Define ‘Sustainable’ In This Context

Sustainable usually refers to something which doesn’t degrade the environment, and doesn’t deplete natural resources (it may also mean that the resources that are used to make something can be renewed quickly enough without being depleted over the long term).

But, plastic has the ability to impact humans, wildlife and the economy too.

So, we should look at the use of plastic and it’s sustainability across all of these areas, and not just environmentally, or in terms of natural resource depletion.

 

There Are Different Types Of Plastic, & Many Ways To Categorise Plastic

It would be easy to generalise and say plastic is or isn’t sustainable in a certain way.

But, the reality is that there are different types of plastic, and plastic can be categorised in many different ways. 

With this being the case – it’s far more accurate to look at the sustainability of a specific type of plastic, or a category of plastic.

Examples of different types of plastic, or categories of plastic, are:

  • LDPE vs HDPE vs PET vs another type of plastic
  • A fully plastic bag vs a fully plastic bottle vs a product that only partially contains plastic
  • Single use plastic/high waste rate plastics vs long life/low waste rate plastics
  • Macro plastics vs micro plastics
  • Recyclable plastics vs non recyclable plastics

Just as one example of comparing the different types of plastic … recycling rates may differ in different countries for the different types of plastic. Some of the highest rates are PET bottles and jars at 29.9%, and HDPE natural bottles at 30.3% [in the US … which is far higher than the average for all plastics] (en.wikipedia.org).

Read more about the different types of plastic and categories of plastic in these guides:

That being said, there are still some common sustainability takeaways from plastic in general. They might be …

 

Main Ways Plastic Might Not Be Sustainable

  • Plastic originates from petrochemical/fossil fuel feedstock such as crude oil and natural gas, which require mining, refining, and are also non renewable resources
  • Plastic as a material does still have a decent sized carbon footprint … from gas leaks at the wellheads, to leaks at the pipelines, to the lengthy chemical process of turning oil or gas into raw plastic resin, to the energy to fashion the plastic into packaging or car parts or textiles … burning plastic waste also emits GHGs (npr.org)
  • Common plastic like PET and HDPE are made from petroleum via the process of Polymerization – which can be energy intensive (desjardin.fr)
  • Not all plastics are recyclable, and recycling rates for plastic tend to be low compared to some other materials. In addition, plastic loses it’s quality and integrity each time it is recycled, so plastic is eventually downcycled, or set to landfill, or incinerated (as it can only be recycled a certain amount of time). These issues are a problem where recycling plastic can be a more eco friendly disposal option than landfill or incineration. These issues also support the use of ‘open loop’ materials that can’t or won’t be recycled into their original form and re-used again (as opposed to closed loop materials like metal that can be recycled and reused endlessly, and are more circular)
  • Plastic items are some of the most littered items and most common items found on beach, river and land cleanups
  • Plastic takes a long time to decompose both in landfill and in the environment
  • Plastic breaks down into micro plastics, and micro plastics are being found in rivers, on soil, in the ocean, on beaches, and in humans and wild life. 
  • Plastic can be ingested by wild life, as well as them getting tangled up in it
  • Plastic can leach additives and chemicals, as well as collect organic pollutants when it is out in the environment
  • The advantages of using plastic compared to other materials shrinks as other materials are re-used more (npr.org)
  • There is a cost to clean up plastic litter and pollution, and address plastic waste problems (especially noteworthy in the case of single use plastics)
  • Read more about the potential harmful effects of plastic that may contribute to it’s lack of sustainability in this guide

 

Main Ways Plastic Might Be Sustainable

What many people may not be aware of is that common disposable plastic items like bottles and bags can actually outperform bottles and bags made of other materials in some ways and across some environmental indicators/measurables. We put together a couple of guides that outline these findings:

As a brief summary:

  • The production process of plastic tends not to use as much energy, be as intensive with things like emissions, or be as expensive as some other materials such as metals (like aluminum and stainless steel bottles). Plastic even comes out ahead of paper, canvas or glass in several sustainability metrics like climate and energy impact (npr.org). 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)
  • Transporting and delivering plastic tends to be less intensive, use less fuel, and cheaper in some instances because of how light plastic is compared to some other materials like glass, and the fact that it is generally space efficient, and doesn’t have fragility issues like glass might have (in the case of plastic vs glass bottles). Packaginginsights.com mentions – ‘… properties such as lightweight, durability, flexibility, cushioning and barrier properties make plastic packaging well suited for efficiently containing and protecting many types of products during shipment and delivery to customers without leaks, spoilage, or other damage’ 
  • Waste Management – Plastics have no decomposition, meaning no associated methane releases when landfilled [compared to organic material] (packaginginsights.com)
  • What we see in the case of plastic bags vs other types of bags like paper, cotton, organic cotton, composite etc., is that other materials need to be re-used many more times in order to make up for their much larger production footprint compared to thin plastic LDPE bags. Surprisingly, these LDPE plastic bags have a lower eco impact/better eco performance than some other bag materials across several eco and human toxicity measurables. And it’s not only bags … metal and glass bottles also need to be used more times than single use or disposable plastic bottles to average out their production footprint. 
  • Plastic Packaging (carrier bags, caps and closures, beverage containers, stretch and shrink film, other rigid packaging and other flexible packaging) –  ‘plastic … is more sustainable than the material alternatives in terms of energy use, water consumption, solid waste, greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion, eutrophication and acidification … and, replacing plastics with alternative materials such as paper and paperboard, glass, steel, aluminum, textiles, rubber and cork would result in significant net negative environmental impacts’ (packaginginsights.com)
  • It’s worth reading the above guides for more context and detail on these trends and this data

 

Additionally, when considering the sustainability of plastic:

  • Would cars, public transport, planes and other modes of transport be as light or be as fuel efficient without plastic components and materials?
  • Would plumbing and waste infrastructure be as effective and affordable for major cities without plastic piping?
  • Would building, construction and insulation be as affordable and effective without plastic wiring, cables and materials?

There are many of these types of questions to consider.

 

Is Plastic Environmentally Friendly?

As we can see from the above information:

  • In some ways plastic is more eco friendly than other materials like paper, metals, glass, silicone, cotton, composites, and so on – specifically when it comes to production and delivering plastic where it needs to get to
  • But, in many other ways plastic damages the environment – specifically with mismanaged plastic (inadequately disposed of, and littered plastic), plastic that is incinerated without the proper air pollution or carbon capture controls, and the impact plastic can have as a macro or micro plastic in rivers and waterways, in soil, on beaches and in the ocean. Read more about Plastic In The Ocean, and Plastic On Land in these guides

 

Does Plastic Contribute To Depletion Of Natural Resources, Or Use Non Renewable Resources?

Conventional plastic uses fossil fuels like crude oil and natural gas as feedstock, both of which are considered as non renewable resources.

Bioplastics are a newer type of plastic that use renewable biomass as feedstock instead of fossil fuels (but bioplastics still have their own pros and cons to consider).

 

Potential Short & Long Term Impact Of Plastic On Humans, Wild Life and The Economy

Read more in these guides about the

 

How We Might Better Manage Our Relationship With Plastic In The Future As A Society

Considering the potential problems that plastic poses, this guide looks at major points we might consider in managing our relationship with plastic going into the future.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-are-the-most-problematic-harmful-types-of-plastic/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-different-types-of-plastic-how-many-there-are-what-they-are-most-commonly-produced-what-they-are-used-for-which-types-can-be-recycled-more/

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

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

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/reasons-why-some-plastic-cant-be-recycled/

6, https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-pros-cons-of-plastic/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/a-realistic-plastic-free-living-plastic-free-july-guide-with-tips/

8. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/ways-in-which-plastic-benefits-society-the-environment-the-economy/

9. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-is-plastic-used-for-in-society-sectors-that-use-the-most-plastic/

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

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

12. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-common-plastic-waste-generated-found-on-beaches-in-oceans-on-land/

13. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-long-plastic-takes-to-break-down-degrade-in-landfills-in-the-ocean-the-environment/

14. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/solutions-to-plastic-problems-how-to-solve-plastic-pollution-how-to-manage-plastic-in-society-in-the-future/

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

16. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-in-the-ocean-faq-guide/

17. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/impact-of-plastic-on-animals-marine-life/

18. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/impact-of-plastic-on-human-health/

19. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/economic-impact-of-plastic/

20. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/environmental-impact-of-plastic-on-land-soil-the-ocean-freshwater-sources-the-air-atmosphere-natural-resources-more/

21. https://www.npr.org/2019/07/09/735848489/plastic-has-a-big-carbon-footprint-but-that-isnt-the-whole-story

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

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

Plastic vs Paper vs Metal vs Glass vs Bamboo vs Silicone vs Other Reusable Straws: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

Plastic vs Paper vs Metal vs Glass vs Bamboo Straws: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

In this guide, we compare the different types of straws – plastic, paper, metal (stainless steel), glass, bamboo, & others.

We look at which ones might be best environmentally, practically, and overall.

 

Summary – Which Straws Are The Most Eco Friendly, & Best Overall?

  • We’ve already touched on the subject of whether plastic straws should be banned or not in this guide
  • There aren’t any major and/or comprehensive life cycle assessments that we could find on the different types of straws 
  • However, there is individual data on plastic straws, and also life cycle assessments that have been done on plastic bags, paper and cotton bags, and metal  and glass bottles, that we can extrapolate trends and data from for this guide. There are also some smaller and independent guides that talk about the pros and cons of each types of straw that have relevant information
  • Surprisingly, lightweight and often disposable types of plastic (like LDPE) actually rates as the lowest eco impact material amongst many types of bags (including paper, and natural fibres like cotton that could be compared in some ways to bamboo), across several key indicators/eco measurables. Today’s straws are made mainly of Polypropylene though, and even PP is better than some other materials (like paper and some renewables like cotton) from an eco perspective 
  • Plastic bottles also have a far lower production footprint than metal bottles (stainless steel and aluminum), because of the energy requirements to process metal ores and fabricate metal. Glass has it’s own cons as a material such as being a heavier material than plastic, and having potentially higher transport and delivery costs, as well as having fragility and breakage issues
  • Plastic straws themselves make up a very small % of overall plastic pollution, but plastic straws and stirrers are one of the most common items found on clean ups of beaches, land and rivers (indicating they could be one of the most littered everyday items we use)
  • As far as practicality and usage goes, plastic is a flexible material and is widely used as a straw. Paper can have issues with soginess from getting wet unless additives are added. Metal lacks flexibility but is durable and reusable. Glass can be an issue for very hot or very cold beverages, and can obviously be a breaking hazard. And, bamboo can have similar issues to paper. Reusable straws like glass and metal might cost more, but will be cheaper over time if used more frequently. Every straw has it’s pros and cons.
  • In summary – the more a straw is reused, the more the cost and environmental footprint averages out over time. Single use and disposable straws are going to contribute to waste, and potentially pollution and littering at a higher rate. The most sustainable option is to reuse and repurpose existing straws as much as possible, and buy as few new straws as possible. After that, reusable straws that are used many times or over a long period may be most sustainable amongst new straw options (compared to single use and disposable straws with higher waste rates).
  • Apart from the straws we use, other lifestyle options like the food we eat, the clothes and products we use, how we get around in terms of transport, and how we live at home, can have a significant impact on how sustainable our lifestyle is.

 

Sustainability Tips When Using Straws

  • Using no straw at all (where possible) is the most sustainable option
  • Try to reuse a straw as many times as possible before disposing of it – especially metal straws. This averages out the production and transport footprint
  • Try to buy or find reusable straws second hand before buying a completely newly made one
  • For extended use and reuse of a new straw – metal straws may be the best eco option. But, they may have to be used several hundred times to make up for the energy used in the production process. A benefit of metal is that it can be recycled over and over again, unlike plastic which loses it’s integrity/quality when recycled more than a certain amount of times
  • For short use new straws – plastic straws may be the best eco option (because they are cheap and have a lower production and transport footprint). But, plastic straws generally can’t be recycled as a soft plastic in many countries
  • Make sure metal straws and other recyclable straws go to recycling where possible, and make sure plastic straws are put in general waste bins and not littered (where they tend to end up on land, in rivers, on beaches and in the ocean)

 

Plastic Straws

Plastic straws are flexible/can be bent, are lightweight, and are cheap. They are also reasonable when it comes to hot and cold beverages, and don’t tend to impact the flavor of whatever the drink or beverage is.

Plastic as a material is generally cheap to make and transport, and generally isn’t as energy intensive to produce as other materials like metal, paper and some natural fibres.

Today’s straws are made mainly of Polypropylene (earth911.com), and even PP is better than some other materials from an eco perspective when we extrapolate data over from lifecycle assessments done on PP plastic bags (mst.dk).

Plastic however is made from non renewable petrochemicals.

Further issues are disposal, waste management and pollution – essentially, the end of the lifecycle with plastic.

Plastic straws generally can’t be recycled (and plastic itself has a low recycling rate), or straws will rarely be accepted with other forms of polypropylene (earth911.com), so straws have to be sent to landfill or incinerated.

Plastic also takes a long time to degrade, can leach chemicals like BPA, breaks down into microplastics, and can be ingested by wild life, or they get entangled by plastic. Read more about the potential harmful effects of plastic in this guide

Plastic straws and stirrers tend to fall amongst the top littered items in the world (probably because plastic straws are used so much, and they tend to be high waste/highly disposable and single use type items).

 

Some interesting data on plastic straw pollution (From Ourworldindata.org):

  • It’s estimated that if all straws around the world’s coastlines were lost to the ocean, this would account for approximately 0.03 percent of ocean plastics. A global ban on their use could therefore achieve a maximum of a 0.03 percent reduction

So, we can see that addressing straw pollution in particular doesn’t have a big impact in terms of quantity of plastic waste.

Expanding on the above numbers of plastic straws, Ourworldindata.org writes:

  • With effective waste management systems across the world, mismanaged plastics at risk of entering the ocean could decline by more than 80 percent. If we focus all of our energy on contributions of negligible size [like plastic straws], we risk diverting our focus away from the large-scale contributions we need

 

Bioplastic (& Biodegradable) Straws

Bioplastic and biodegradable straws tend to be made with renewable biomass material (like corn starches and oil) instead of fossil fuel feedstock.

Using a bioplastic straw has many of the same practical pros and cons as regular plastic.

Whether bioplastics and supposedly compostable or biodegradable straws are better than plastic from an eco friendly, or sustainability perspective, is questionable.

Biodegradable straws can be made with PLA, and PLA usually only breaks down in commercial composting facilities and conditions. Since PLA does not decompose quickly in soil or seawater, this can become a problem when littered. PLA will also not be of benefit in a landfill as it doesn’t suit these conditions (greenliving.lovetoknow.com).

These straws can also contain potentially harmful additives because of their different chemical makeup.

Some ‘eco friendly’ plastic straws still contain non degradable substances and plastic particles, so, research and choose wisely.

 

Paper Straws

Paper straws are soft and tend not to impact taste/flavor of a liquid being consumed, but a major complaint is that they can get wet and soggy when exposed to fluids over a certain amount of time.

To get around this issue, manufacturers may add synthetic additives or composite materials to paper straws so they hold their shape and don’t have ‘sogginess’ issues.

In terms of the eco friendliness of paper …

Paper can come from sustainably managed forests (you have to check that this is the case for a paper product you buy – look for certification), and trees are a renewable resource.

Unbleached paper may be better than bleached (naturally dyes though may be far more eco friendly than synthetic dyes and coloring).

A problem with paper as a material though is that it generally uses a lot of water, and much more energy than plastic in the production phase. Paper, like plastic, can also only be recycled a certain amount of times before it loses it’s quality and can’t be recycled anymore.

So, paper straws may not be any more favorable than plastic in some ways (and are worse in others), but, they do tend to break down in the environment far quicker than plastic, and quicker over the long term than plastic in landfills (but not so much in the short term).

 

Metal Straws – Stainless Steel

Metal, specifically stainless steel straws, don’t bend like plastic straws, and they can get a chill sensation when used with ice or cold drinks. 

They are reusable and washable, and much more durable than plastic, paper and bamboo.

They are also far less fragile and less of a risk to break than glass.

From a sustainability perspective, metal has to be mined, the ores processed, and there is a lot of energy that goes into making a metal product compared to plastic.

Recycling metal reduces some of this impact, and keeps metal resources in the supply chain instead of having to mine and process new resources. Recycling metals (which have good recycled economic value) also cuts down on any pollution problems that plastic may have.

In order for stainless steel to make sense from a sustainability perspective, the straw has to be re-used many times in order to average out the production footprint.

Washing with cold water instead of hot water (like in a dishwasher) will reduce the energy footprint associated with keeping the straw clean.

Food grade stainless steel is one of the better options available (and food grade stainless steel is less prone to getting the metallic taste some people claim metal straws have).

 

Glass Straws

Glass straws, like metal straws, aren’t flexible/bendable like plastic straws can be.

Glass is a heavier material than plastic, and can be costlier to transport (along with using more fuel and potentially more packing material).

Glass also doesn’t always tend to have a great recycling value due to different factors, and there can be complications in recycling glass in general, so glass recycling rates can be lower in some countries than metal.

Borosilicate glass straws are usually the best option, as they are generally less prone to breaking, and seem to be better insulated against hot and cold beverages (greenliving.lovetoknow.com).

 

Bamboo Straws

Again, bamboo straws are not bendable like a plastic straw is.

But, bamboo is a renewable and natural material (unlike plastic), and bamboo straws are generally reusable, and can be composted (as long as they are labelled as such) at the end of their life cycle. So, they are more sustainable than plastic straws in these ways.

A bamboo straw generally doesn’t last as long or isn’t as durable as a top quality non corrosive stainless steel or glass straw might be.

One of the good things about bamboo is that it is generally more eco friendly than cotton as a natural fibre because it uses far less water, less fertilizer, and no pesticides.

 

Silicone Straws

Silicone straws tend to be light and durable.

However, … silicone is still a type of [plastic] synthetic polymer because hydrocarbons from fossil fuels are used in its manufacture. There is limited research on its health effects, and silicone can leach chemicals when heated. Silicone can contain varying additives and there is no regulation of what can be called silicone [in some countries]. It also has an end of life issue because it is not able to be recycled through [most recycling systems] (biome.com.au)

So, silicone doesn’t really solve many of the problems you may want to solve by avoiding plastic straws.

High quality food grade silicone is perhaps the best option for silicone straws.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-straws-potential-impact-of-plastic-straws-a-comparison-to-plastic-straw-alternatives/

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

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-bottles/

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

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-this-the-most-effective-way-to-solve-stop-reduce-ocean-plastic-pollution/

6. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Plastic Pollution”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution’ [Online Resource]

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-common-plastic-waste-generated-found-on-beaches-in-oceans-on-land/

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

9. https://earth911.com/home/food-beverage/recycling-mystery-plastic-straws/

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

11. https://greenliving.lovetoknow.com/Biodegradable_Drinking_Straws

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

Plastic vs Paper vs Cotton vs Other Reusable Bags: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

Plastic vs Paper vs Cotton vs Other Reusable Bags: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

In this guide, we compare the different materials of bag – plastic, paper, cotton, composite, and different reusable bags.

We look at which ones might be best environmentally, practically, and overall.

 

Summary – Which Type Of Bag Material Is Best Environmentally & Overall?

  • We’ve already provided a large part of the answer to this question in this guide about the different materials of bags
  • In terms of eco friendliness …
  • Single use LDPE plastic bags actually lead across several environmental measurables/categories according to some life cycle assessment reports. When it comes to human toxicity impact, paper and composite bags can be equally as low impact. 
  • The reusable bags such as the cotton and composite bags have to be re-used far more times than the more disposable bags (like plastic) in order to have the same environmental performance, largely because of their significant production footprint in terms of energy, resources etc. (which takes more uses to average out … soft plastic can be cheap and have a low production footprint)
  • These LCA (life cycle assessment) reports though don’t account for several factors such as the impact of littered and polluted waste in the environment, or economic impact, just as a few examples. Also, the main LCA we reference is purely a Danish study – so things like bag types, recycling rates, waste management systems, bag production processes, and so on, can vary country to country and impact results.
  • A full picture of the full impact of each type of bag isn’t quite available, and is definitely location and situation specific.
  • The best bag can certainly depend on the indicator you are measuring or assessing for e.g. greenhouse gas emissions, water use and consumption, waste generated, litter rate, pollution and mismanaged waste rate, time taken to break down and decompose, impact on humans, impact on wild life, and so on.
  • Some things that are clear though are that re-using bags as many times as possible, repurposing bags for as long as possible, and trying to limit the amount of new bags you buy can be beneficial. Unbleached bags and bag without printing on them (i.e. plain looking bags) can also be more environmentally friendly.
  • In terms of practicality of use (that we didn’t touch upon in the above linked guide) …
  • Paper bags are going to have issues with strength, durability and getting wet and losing their integrity (if they get punctured, torn, or stretched). Soft plastic bags are going to have strength issues with heavy loads. Composite and natural fibre bags can be extremely strong and can provide the best strength and durability of all the bags – jute composite bags in particular can be extremely strong and durable. Reusable bags like cotton and composite might be more expensive to buy and manufacture than the extremely cheap disposable plastic bags, but they often last far longer.
  • Overall, apart from the choice of bag we use, we have other significant lifestyle choices we can make if we want to be more sustainable, such as the food we eat, how we get around in transport, and the home we live in (just as a few examples). So, sustainability can be something we address on a wider scale than just our bag choice.

 

Plastic Bags

Plastic bags can be the common lightweight LDPE plastic shopping bags, or the heavy plastic bags, such as PP, PET and polyester.

 

According to the above LCA report (available in the mst.dk resource link below):

  • Plastic LDPE bags have the overall lowest environmental impact across a range of environmental measurables
  • Biopolymer bags providing a similar impact  to plastic LDPE bags across climate change, and water resource depletion indicators
  • Heavy plastic bags like PP, PET, and polyester need to be reused more times to lower their environmental production cost
  • Woven PP bags have a lower environmental impact than non woven

The best disposal method for each bag might be:

  • Plastic, LDPE – Reusing/repurposing as a bin bag
  • Plastic, PP – Recycle, reuse as waste bin bag if possible, else incinerate
  • Plastic, Recycled PET – Recycle, reuse as waste bin bag if possible, else incinerate
  • Plastic, Polyester PET – Reuse as waste bin bag if possible, else incinerate
  • Bio Polymer – Reuse as waste bin bag if possible, else incinerate

Incineration might be the best disposal option for all bags when reuse or repurposing isn’t possible anymore.

 

In terms of litter and bag pollution rates:

  • Plastic bags are among the littered items most commonly found during clean ups on land and on beaches and coast lines 
  • This may suggest not only that we use a lot of them, but they have high waste rates and pollution or littering rates

– bettermeetsreality.com

 

Read about some of the more general pros and cons of plastic as a material when used in products in this guide.

 

Paper Bags

Paper bags can come in a variety of types, made with both recycled and and virgin paper, bleached and unbleached, different colors, and so on.

 

According the the mst.dk LCA report:

  • The best disposal method for paper bags might be ‘Reuse as waste bin bag if possible, else incinerate’
  • Unbleached paper bags may have a similar environmental impact to LDPE plastic bags for climate change, human toxicity (cancer effects), and fossil fuel resource depletion indicators
  • Unbleached paper has a lower eco impact than bleached paper)
  • Bleached paper bags need to be reused more times to lower their environmental production cost
  • Paper bags have to be re-used far less than cotton or composite bags to have the same environmental impact as LDPE bags

 

Cotton (& Canvas & Cloth) Bags

Cotton bags can come in conventional cotton, and organic cotton.

Organic cotton is usually made without the use of GMOs or synthetic chemicals like pesticides, and certified organic cotton can have additional standards.

 

According the the mst.dk LCA report:

  • The best disposal method for cotton and textile bags might be ‘Reuse as waste bin bag if possible, else incinerate’
  • Textile bags need to be reused more times to lower their environmental production cost
  • Cotton bags have to be re-used the most of any bag type in order to have the same environmental impact as LDPE bags
  • Conventional cotton bags have a lower environmental impact than organic cotton

 

Composite & Other Reusable Bags

Other reusable bags come in many types, with a composite bag made of jute and other materials being one example.

 

According the the mst.dk LCA report:

  • The best disposal method for composite bags (like jute composites) might be ‘Reuse as waste bin bag if possible, else incinerate’ 
  • Composite bags have a similar impact as LDPE bags for the human toxicity (non cancer effects) indicator
  • Composite bags have to be re-used less than cotton bags to have the same environmental performance as LDPE bags

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/should-we-ban-plastic-bags-are-they-better-or-worse-than-other-types-of-bags/

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

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/most-common-plastic-waste-generated-found-on-beaches-in-oceans-on-land/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/the-pros-cons-of-plastic/

Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Better Than Plastic & Other Bottles?

Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Better Than Plastic & Other Bottles?

Boxed water that comes in boxes, cartons and paper packaging has been around for a while now.

But, in this guide, we look at whether it might be better than plastic and other options environmentally and in other ways.

 

Summary – Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Better?

  • Environmentally, a better option than new packaging of any kind (including boxed/carton water) is drinking tap water (which you can filter or purify) from an existing bottle, or from an existing cup
  • For a new bottle or carton, single use or short use packaging of any kind tends not to beat reusable bottles over longer repeated use lifecycles and timelines. There isn’t as many studies on this, but just as an example, it’s estimated a stainless steel bottle used 500 times or over is better environmentally than a plastic water bottle used once. And, in terms of carbon footprint, 30 refills of some glass bottles may beat out a single use carton/boxed water 
  • In terms of single use packaging by itself – it appears carton/boxed water does in fact come out ahead favorably compared to most other single use items like plastic bottles, glass bottles, aluminum cans for an indicator like total carbon footprint for example. It does usually beat out a material like glass as well for transport cost and fuel use due to glass’ weight as a material. But overall, for single use or short term use items, where carton water sits may depend on how effectively it is recycled. If it can be recycled to a similar level as bottles and cans, it usually beats them all because of the lower carbon footprint. Specific companies also offer benefits for their boxed water over plastic bottles, such as short distances to transport their water cartons to fill them up, fitting more cartons (flat packed) into the same truck space than plastic can fit, and having the paper portion of their cartons sourced from sustainable and renewable forests and trees (compared to non renewable petrochemicals like plastics are sourced from). But, single use anything still does not look better than refillable or reusable bottles, and definitely not better than no new bottle or new carton at all.
  • Overall, boxed/carton water has it’s pros and cons (which we outline below in this guide) like any type of packaging

 

What Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Exactly?

There’s many different brands that offer boxed water/water that comes in cartons (similar to milk). Each one might offer a slightly different product with slightly different packaging.

But generally, it is water that comes in packaging that contains paper, instead of the common plastic water bottle.

More specifically, it tends to be a composite of materials/a multi layer board.

  • [A general makeup of Tetrapak and other brands of carton type packaging, might be paper (70%), aluminium and various plastics and plastic layers. There can be up to 12 or even 16 layers that make up one board]. This makes it difficult to recycle so depending on the country these may not be separated for recycling (tappwater.co)

Beveragedaily.com has a good cross section picture of a water carton showing the various layers – follow the resource link in the resource list to see it.

 

Examples Of Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Products

Just Water

  • … carton is 100% recyclable, 54% paper ( made from trees that are responsibly harvested and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council), 28% plants based plastic (plastic in the shoulder and cap of the JUST carton is made mostly from sugarcane), 3% aluminum + 15% protective plastic film (thin layer of aluminum foil to protect water from potential contamination. Both the aluminum and paper are shielded by a layer of BPA-free plastic film to protect the integrity of the bottle)

– https://justwater.com/ourpackaging/ (read more on transport benefits and recyclability in this link)

 

Boxed Water Is Better

Made from:

  • 74% paper, 20% plastic, 6% aluminum
  • Roughly three-quarters of each [box] is made of paper, fully recyclable and free of BPAs and phthalates. … Paper comes from well-managed forests which are continually being replanted to replace harvested trees, helping offset [the] carbon footprint …

As a single use option compared to plastic bottles, Boxed Water:

  • 64% lower carbon footprint
  • 43% less fossil fuel use
  • 1,084% lower impact on our ozone

Compared to aluminum:

  • 50% lower impact on ozone depletion & smog emissions
  • 33% lower impact on acidification due to deforestation
  • Due to smelting 120 million tons of bauxite waste is produced annually

– boxedwaterisbetter.com

 

  • 76% of the carton is paper [made from certified, sustainably managed forests], with the rest being layers of polyethylene plastic, and aluminum
  • … water is purified through reverse osmosis and ultraviolet filtration
  • For one truck’s worth of bottled water, Boxed Water can deliver 26 trucks’ worth of cartoned water

– grist.org, and citylab.com

 

Carton & Co

  • … cartons are sourced in Europe, and formed, filled and sealed in Australia
  • … majority of the carton is made from FSC-certified, renewable paperboard
  • ]water is mains water that is purified to] remove the ‘undesirables’ like iron, salts and fluoride. Our triple filters of carbon, reverse osmosis and UV are used in multi-stage process
  • Caps are plastic

– Cartonandco.com.au

 

Is Boxed/Carton/Paper Water Better For The Environment Than Plastic Bottles, & Other Bottles?

In general:

  • It appears that in the production stage, and with the overall carbon footprint, it might be better than plastic bottles and other types of single use bottles.
  • In transport and delivery, carton water looks like it beats glass, which is a heavier material and a more costly material to transport, that can also use more fuel. Furthermore, [trucks taking cartons to filling plants can generally fit more boxes of water in the same space as even plastic, to the ratio of 26 trucks to 1, because the boxes are packed flat] (citylab.com)
  • Carton water may have issues being recycled because it is a composite board of materials such as paper, aluminum and plastic layers. So, in waste management, carton water may be as bad as, and potentially worse than pure plastic, glass , aluminum and other materials. It may also contribute to waste in landfill and waste pollution if not recycled effectively. But, it depends on the effectiveness of the waste management systems in a city or country, and their ability to deal with mixed material packaging and products
  • Boxed/carton/paper water appears not to to be better than refillable bottles and reusable bottles, that are used or refilled 30 times or more
  • Using a new box or carton of water is not as good environmentally as using an existing bottle or cup to drink your water from a tap or a source that doesn’t require packaging
  • Something else to consider is that paper is made from trees, which are renewable. However, plastic is made from petrochemicals like crude oil and natural gas, which aren’t renewable. Glass and aluminum are both 100% recyclable, and can be recycled infinitely.

 

Tappwater.co has an interesting post where they outline the carbon footprint, recycling, end of life waste and transportation, of glass vs plastic vs aluminum vs carton Tetrapak. The results were:

  • Carbon footprint – carton came out ahead of everything except a glass bottle that had been re-filled/reused 30 times
  • Recycling – no data available, but paper can be re-used 4 to 5 times
  • Transportation – it’s assumed carton is better than glass which is heavier than other materials, which leads to more fuel use and higher transport costs
  • Waste management – might have a medium impact on wildlife and nature, and might have a decomposition residue of some micro plastics

 

Sources

1. https://tappwater.co/us/footprint-of-glass-vs-plastic-vs-aluminium-best-choice/

2. https://grist.org/living/is-boxed-water-actually-eco-friendly/

3. https://www.citylab.com/life/2015/02/the-single-best-reason-that-boxed-water-is-better/385138/

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

5. https://justwater.com/ourpackaging/

6. https://boxedwaterisbetter.com/pages/why-boxed-is-better

7. https://cartonandco.com.au/pages/faqs

8. https://www.beveragedaily.com/Article/2018/01/03/JUST-Brands-CEO-It-s-not-just-about-having-a-bottle-made-out-of-paper

Should We Ban Plastic Bottles?

Should We Ban Plastic Bottles?

In this guide, we look at the potential considerations behind the question of whether plastic bottles should be banned.

 

Summary – Should Plastic Bottles Be Banned?

  • Firstly, there should be a distinction made between the types of plastic bottles.
  • The two most common are 1. Disposable/single use plastic bottles (usually made from PET plastic), and 2. Reusable plastic bottles commonly used as long term water bottles.
  • There’s a strong case to be made to ban, tax, penalise or ultimately reduce in some way (and in some countries, States or cities more than others), the production, waste generation and pollution of single use disposable plastic bottles (in particular). Countries like the US, China and Mexico are places where more focus may be put on this happening first, as they are leaders in global bottled water consumption per year (in gallons). The US has one of the highest per capita usage rates of plastic bottle use in the world, and China, the US, Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan are some of the biggest polluters (shopkablo.com). Introducing punitive measures to bring these countries’ production, waste generation and pollution of single use of short term use plastic bottles down, may be the way to go to minimise the production, waste and pollution footprint and impact of these types of plastic bottles. Rather than banning plastic bottles or introducing punitive measures, initiatives to encourage reusable bottle use (and as a by product reduce disposable bottle use), are also an option that can be used exclusively, or side by side with other strategies. Read more about further ideas for reducing the footprint of plastic bottles in this guide
  • However, in comparison, reusable plastic water bottles can present a number of potential benefits over disposable plastic bottles and other bottle types/materials

 

More About Banning Disposable & Single Use Plastic Bottles

The big point that is usually made with disposable plastic bottles, and specifically single use plastic water bottles, is that they not necessary in a lot of the ways they are used in developed countries.

This is a problem because they:

  • Use fossil fuels (crude oil and natural gas) for their production
  • Have a transport and delivery carbon emissions and fuel burning footprint (although usually not as significant as glass)
  • Can use up energy in the store they are sold in, such as lighting, cooling, and so on
  • Have a high waste rate because of their short usage lifecycle
  • Don’t have a great recycling rate when they are disposed of – one reason is that it’s usually easier and cheaper for businesses to make new bottles than to recycle them. Therefore, plastic bottles commonly end up in landfill (or incinerated in some countries). 
  • Contribute to plastic pollution in the environment if they are littered and inadequately disposal. Three of the big problems with plastic once they become waste or once they get in the environment is that they can break down into microplastics, they can leach chemicals, and plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose 

On the flip side, disposable plastic bottles obviously benefit businesses from a logistical and profit point of view, job creation, the economy (at least on the front end before we have to pay for the cost to clean up and address plastic bottle pollution), cities that don’t have clean water supplies or who are facing water scarcity issues (at least in the short term until they can solve water infrastructure or water supply issues), along with several other potential benefits.

So, there are many downsides to disposable plastic bottles, but also some benefits.

Read more about the potential pros and cons of disposable and single use plastic bottles in this guide.

 

More About Banning Reusable Plastic Bottles

Reusable plastic bottles may be less of a focus to ban – certainly less of a focus compared to disposable and short use plastic bottles.

Reusable plastic bottles that are BPA and BPS free may even be a better option than glass in some instances (especially in countries where certain types of glass have low recycling rates), and metal (such as stainless steel or aluminum) where the metal bottle isn’t used more than approximately 500 times and recycled after use.

Read more about the potential pros and cons of reusable plastic water bottles in this guide.

 

Can Plastic Bottles Be Recycled?

Plastic bottles made of Plastic #1 (PET) or Plastic #2 (HDPE) are some of the most recyclable plastics compared to other types of plastic. Although, their recycling rates may still only hover around the 20-35% mark in some major countries.

Recycling rates of plastics do differ from country to country, and city to city though.

And, reusable plastic bottles may or may not be able to be recycled depending on the plastic they are made from.

One of the inherent problems with plastic is that they can only be recycled a certain amount of times before they lose their integrity/quality, and have to be downcycled or sent to land fill or incinerated. Compared this to metal or some types of glass which can be recycled endlessly.

 

Plastic Bottle Pollution (Plastic Bottles In The Ocean, & Littering)

Plastic bottles are among some of the most commonly littered, and inadequately disposed of items found on beaches, on land and in oceans.

 

Plastic Drink Bottles, Leaching (Of BPA & Other Chemicals) & Potential Human Health Effects

Some types of plastic, including some types of plastic water bottles have been questioned for leaching that may occur, and cause human health concerns.

Whether or not leaching is a problem, particularly of BPA, has been debated and differing reports do exist

BPA free plastic products like BPA free water bottles do exist though.

 

Economic Value Of The Bottled Water Industry

  • The bottled water industry was valued at US$ 185 billion in 2015 (businesswire.com)

Further on from the economic value of the bottled water industry, this industry provides jobs as well.

This is just bottled water as well – obviously there are many other beverages that are bottled, and that add economic value and jobs.

 

Other Considerations With Plastic Bottles

  • Plastic bottles all have different designs depending on the product and brand that makes them. A simple soft drink bottle may be made of a plastic bottle, with a plastic wrapper for the label, and a plastic lid. Reusable plastic water bottles though can contain multiple different materials, such as multiple different types of plastic, or plastic and another material for the lid for example. All these factors can impact production footprint, and other life cycle assessment factors such as how effectively a bottle can be recycled.

 

Sources

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

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/what-plastics-can-cannot-be-recycled-how-to-find-out/

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

4. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180813005378/en/Global-Bottled-Water-Market-2018-2023-334-Billion

5. https://shopkablo.com/blogs/the-reformist/the-environmental-impact-of-plastic-water-bottles-and-all-you-need-to-know

6. https://tappwater.co/us/footprint-of-glass-vs-plastic-vs-aluminium-best-choice/

Plastic vs Glass vs Metal (Stainless Steel & Aluminum) Bottles & Water Bottles: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

Plastic vs Glass vs Metal (Stainless Steel or Aluminum) Water Bottle: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

In this guide, we compare the pros and cons of plastic, glass, and metal (stainless steel and aluminum) bottles, and water bottles.

We also look at which material of bottle might be best from a sustainability/environmental, cost and practical perspective. 

 

Summary – Which Bottle Is Best?

Ultimately, which bottle is best comes down to how exactly you measure ‘best’ (there’s many individual ways to do this), and what your individual preferences are in a bottle.

But, it’s understandable people want a quick, clear answer. 

So, these are our own interchangeable rankings, from best to worst, of the best bottle options overall (based on the research provided in this guide):

  1. Not using a new bottle at all e.g. if you are at home, you can use an existing cup instead and a filtered tap/purified tap water. Or, re-using an existing bottle as many times as possible (instead of buying a new bottle), and then repurposing it it in some way. The one problem some people may have with an existing bottle is concerns with BPA leaching, or if it’s glass for example, breakage (or some other practical issue).
  2. The best new bottle option might be a recycled Food grade #304 or 18/8 stainless steel bottle (to prevent leaching, and to prevent a metallic taste of the beverage inside), that is recycled when disposed of, and is used at least 500 times. If it comes with a lifetime guarantee, that’s even better. Stainless steel is usually durable and practical over the long term, extended use gives the production footprint a chance to be averaged out over the lifetime of the bottle, and recycling of the metal means that new ores aren’t having to be extracted and processed as regularly. Make sure the stainless steel bottle you buy isn’t mixed with aluminum, doesn’t have a plastic liner, and has been tested for lead.
  3. Aluminum is tricky to place. According to several estimates, new aluminum has a higher lifecycle footprint than stainless steel. Also, several sources indicate the lining of aluminum can contain BPA (because it’s the main ingredient in the epoxy or enamel used to prevent aluminum bottles reacting with acidic liquids). But, several studies indicate that using recycled aluminum instead of new aluminum has only a fraction of the energy, emissions and resource footprint. Metals get extra points for practicality and durability of use over glass. A BPA free, leaching tested, reusable aluminum bottle made of recycled material, that you use more than 500 times, might be the second best option after stainless steel.
  4. Reusable, recyclable, BPA & BPS free hard plastic bottles might be next best, as long as you use them as many times as you can. You get the benefits of a lower production and transport footprint that plastic provides, along with lower leaching and health risks, but the one downside is that plastic eventually loses it’s integrity and economic value once it has been recycled too many times, and has to be turned into long term plastic fill, sent to landfill or burnt/incinerated. So, disposability and recyclability may be an issue here.
  5. Glass bottles might be next best, specifically Borosilicate glass which tends to be higher quality than soda lime glass. Glass tends to have a production footprint on par with or slightly higher than plastic according to some estimates (even though the use of a furnace for melting glass can require a lot of energy and fossil fuels). Using recycled glass cullet in some types of glass can reduce energy requirements and environmental footprint. Glass loses points though for fragility and potential to break, the fact you can’t take glass everywhere (such as public pools), glass’ usually high transport/delivery costs and footprint due to the weight of glass, and the economic and systematic difficulties of recycling some types of glass in some places. Glass may shoot up the list to as high as first or second place if it can be recycled effectively, breakage and practicality of use isn’t an issue, and the weight of the glass or the transport/delivery footprint and costs aren’t an issue. Glass usually has the advantage over plastic and metals in that it doesn’t usually leach under any circumstances and maintains purity of flavor, but it also takes the longest to naturally degrade of all materials on this list (and broken glass can be an issue for recycling or a hazard in the environment or in public). So, glass has some glaring and extreme opposite pros and cons.
  6. Disposable and single use plastic bottles are clearly the worst option if you use them frequently. They lead to higher costs, higher waste, and higher pollution, amongst other issues.

 

Other Variables & Factors To Consider For Bottle Materials & Types

  • ‘Best’ depends on the individual indicator or measurable being used. You could measure, emissions, air, water (fresh water, and ocean) or soil pollution, resource depletion and scarcity of resources, impact on humans and human health, impact on wildlife, waste generated, ease of waste management, water use and consumption, energy usage, economic impact and impact on employment, practical usage of the bottle. For example, plastic may be cheap to make, transport and buy, but rate poorly in terms of litter and ocean pollution indicators. Another example is that stainless steel may rate poor in terms of energy usage in production, but have great recycling potential and be very practical to use because of it’s durability.
  • ‘Best’ also depends on personal preferences as to what is most important to an individual i.e. environmental or sustainability measurables may be more important to some people than cost and economics. But, potential health concerns in terms of BPA leaching may be more of a priority to avoid for some people.
  • ‘Best’ may also differ for individuals, society and businesses separately (and for different reasons). Businesses for example may find certain types of bottles far more cost effective and logistically easier to offer than other types of bottles. 
  • Some water bottles are mixed material e.g. glass inner bottle with a hard plastic protective sleeve, or stainless steel with a plastic lid, or a mix of stainless steel and aluminum. These different types of bottles and mixed bottles can make assessment difficult (ultimately, there are many types of bottles on the market such as glass, stainless steel, aluminum, plastic, insulated, bottles with flavor chambers, bottles with outer sleeves and tubes, disposable, collapsible, and so on)
  • Different manufacturers ultimately design, make and deliver their bottles in different ways – so, it can be a manufacturer specific decision that requires research on each company and product.
  • Different cities have different waste collection and waste management (landfill, recycling, and incineration) systems and facilities – this can impact factors like recycling rates. Also, just because you put something in your recycling bin, it doesn’t mean it will be recycled. You may need to research the effectiveness of recycling of certain materials or items (like bottles) in your area to check how likely it is something gets recycled.
  • Something that is not often considered with reusable bottles (especially in lifecycle assessment studies) is washing these bottles with hot water or a dishwater. Over the lifetime of using the bottle, this can significantly add to the energy usage compared to washing with regular cold water. Even then, there is water usage component to reusable bottles to consider

Ultimately, a life cycle assessment may need to be done on each individual company’s product, and the local conditions for waste management for where the product is used and disposed of, to get the most accurate assessment of which bottle might be best. There can be continually changing variables and factors with different products, materials, companies, locations, waste management systems, and so on.

Just as one example, how many times you reuse the bottle matters for metals because of how energy and resource intensive they can be to produce. The more times you use them – the more the production footprint averages out over the lifecycle of the bottle. 

The above and below information is more so general information that may be used as a starting point for consideration for each type of bottle.

 

Moving on to the potential pros and cons of each bottle type and bottle material …

 

Pros & Cons Of Plastic Bottles

Plastic bottles come as disposable/single use plastic bottles, as well as the harder and more durable reusable plastic bottle options.

PET or PETE … is the clear plastic used for most [disposable] soda and water bottles (shopkablo.com)

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • Plastic manufacturing starts off with [refining and processing of crude] oil and natural gas [so, ultimately relies on mining, and relies on a non renewable resources] (earth911.com)

Production

  • [In Australia, overall] plastic [recorded] the greenest results in production and manufacture [compared to aluminum and stainless steel]. [It was found that] plastic bottles have around 80 per cent less impact on the environment than the worst performer in all three categories: water use, global warming and solid waste. Although the metals can claim bonus points for recycling, they never recover from the huge investment of energy required in their production processes. (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • … the energy required to produce one [disposable] plastic water bottle is equivalent to filling the bottle ¼ of the way with oil … Unlike tap water which is distributed through energy efficient infrastructure, producing bottled water involves burning vast quantities of fossil fuels … By the time a bottle of water makes it to a store near you, it has a total carbon footprint equal to 82 grams (or 3 ounces) of carbon dioxide … Producing plastic water bottles also exhausts water resources, taking over three times as much water to produce a bottle of water than the contents of the container itself (shopkablo.com)
  • [In Australia, when comparing plastic to stainless steel and aluminum, it’s interesting to note that plastic consumes] 8.2 per cent of the energy used in the manufacturing sector, but contributes only 1.4 per cent of the carbon emissions (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Transport & Delivery

  • Plastic can be much cheaper to deliver and transport than glass because plastic is far lighter as a material, and because of the shape of plastic … you can get more plastic into the same transportation or packing space than glass. Plastic is also less fragile than glass
  • Plastic bottles [are] 40 percent lighter today than they were 20 years ago (inquirer.com)

Waste Management & Recycling

  • … [the general view from some governments worldwide is that] plastic managed well can be as good as glass. With recycling, downcycling and incineration plastic has a similar carbon footprint and does no harm to the environment (tappwater.co)
  • If single use plastic bottles are made of 100% recycled material the carbon footprint will be 30% less [and around 9.5% of bottles are recovered currently] (tappwater.co)
  • Estimates show that less than 9% of all plastic produced gets recycled … With current technology, it’s less expensive for companies to produce new plastic water bottles than it is for them to recycle used bottles. Converting plastic bottles into carpet and apparel is less energy-intensive and laborious than converting it back into food-grade drinking bottles … [and] degradation of the plastic material [is a problem in the current recycling systems] (shopkablo.com)
  • Plastic can be recycled, but it can lose it’s integrity eventually after a certain amount of recycling, where it then needs to be turned into some type of plastic fill or long life plastic, or needs to be incinerated or sent to landfill. Metal and glass don’t have this loss of quality problem.
  • Plastic takes up less space in landfills than some other materials like paper
  • If no additives are used, PET bottles can be recycled back into PET bottles … Otherwise, they get “downcycled” into carpeting, clothing, and other fibers (inquirer.com)
  • [On an individual level, plastic bottles have been re-used as] plant pots, salt shakers, lighting fixtures, irrigation, and even walls for a greenhouse [in some countries and States] (canr.msu.edu)
  • There’s a 27% recycling rate for plastic bottles [specifically compared to plastic as a material in general] in America (drkarenslee.com)
  • [In Australia, re-usable] PP bottles are less likely to be recycled as there isn’t a kerbside scheme devoted to just this type of plastic [and, plastic type PP has a lower recycling % than PET] (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Pollution

  • Plastic takes a long time to decompose/degrade as a material, and plastic bottles and plastic bottle tops are some of the most littered and inadequately disposed of items found on beaches, on land, in rivers and natural waterways, and in the ocean
  • Micro plastic pollution and leaching of plastic additives and chemicals can be a problem out in the environment with plastic, along with plastic entanglement and ingestion by wildlife
  • Plastic bottles might take 70 to 450 years to decompose in landfill sites, compared to 1 to 2 million years for glass bottles, compared to 200 years for aluminum cans (down2earthmaterials.ie)

Human Health

  • [the chemical BPA is used in some water bottles than contain] polycarbonate plastic [and a major study linked low levels of BPA exposure to some health impacts for humans]. [Some national food regulators say] BPA poses no significant health risks at the low levels that migrate from plastic packaging into food and drink. [As a solution to BPA concerns -] PP (code 1) and PET (code 5) plastic do not contain BPA and have no known health hazards. If you are concerned about BPA, a number of brands now make ‘BPA-free’ plastic reusable bottles (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • Though BPA has been banned in some plastic products — such as baby bottles and sippy cups — its often replaced by a chemical called BPS that may also be toxic, as well as harmful. Check labels carefully, and look for the number “7” printed in the plastic, as this can be an indicator of BPA content (ogdenclinicblog.com)
  • … plastics made with BPA will often have a resin code of 7 appearing on the item. (canr.msu.edu)

Usage

  • Soft plastic can dent and lose it’s shape or scrunch up when in use, where as hard plastic and reusable plastic water bottles last far longer and keep their shape far better
  • [plastic bottles have lifestyle benefits including being more] lighter and more flexible (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Other Notes

  • Globally, we spend over $100 billion every year on bottled water … [and in theory] one year’s revenue from these [plastic water bottle] corporations could be used to permanently resolve the global water crisis and they would still have a few billion dollars left to pocket. (shopkablo.com)
  • [re-usable plastic is better than single use plastic environmentally] (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • plastic is much better for the environment in many cases [compared to glass] (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • … many water bottle distributors use tap water to fill their bottles, and the truth is, tap water is better regulated than bottled water in terms of safety requirements … [so people are buying water they get for free and buying bottles that produce waste] … The US is one of the worst per capita plastic bottle users in the world (shopkablo.com)
  • [One estimate put plastic at 400 years to decompose, with very high impact on wild life and micro plastic decomposition residue] (tappwater.co)

 

Pros & Cons Of Glass Bottles

[Be aware of the] different types of glass. Borosilicate [used in Pyrex]… can withstand high and low temps without shattering and is lighter and less prone to break. Soda lime glass or traditional glass are also great options that are less expensive (aquasana.com)

… borosilicate [is] stronger, lighter and handles a greater temperature range than typical glass (ogdenclinicblog.com)

So, with glass, soda lime glass may be used for the disposable glass bottles you see and buy, and borosilicate for the reusable glass water bottles you see and buy.

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • [… glass comes from mostly natural abundant materials, but these materials may need to be quarried – such as limestone] (earth911.com)
  • Glass is a resource efficient material which is made of abundant natural raw material such as sand and glass waste (cullets) (glassallianceeurope.eu)

Production 

  • Glass production can still use fossil fuels for energy involved in melting glass and using a furnace that burns at high temperatures to do this
  • The production and use of glass has a number of environmental impacts … New glass is made from four main ingredients: sand, soda ash, limestone and other additives for colour or special treatments. Although there is no shortage of these raw materials as yet, they all have to be quarried, which can damage the landscape, affect the environment and use more energy … [But] The addition of domestic waste glass (known as cullet) to a furnace in the glass manufacturing process, substantially reduces the energy requirement and decreases CO2 emissions (recyclenow.com)
  • [the production process and melting of flat glass uses fossil fuels and results in greenhouse gas emissions in the form of CO2, but also air pollution in the form of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles] … Other environmental issues are water pollution, the use of non-renewable natural raw materials such as sand and minerals, production of solid waste and emission of volatile organic compounds (used in production of mirrors and coatings) … A glass furnace runs 24/7 and cannot be stopped and cooled down during its lifetime (15-18 years). Most technologies can therefore only be installed during a furnace rebuild … [development of environmental techniques to minimise environmental impact are ongoing] (agc-glass.eu)
  • … fossil fuels [are] required to generate the very high temperatures needed to manufacture glass (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • [Glass is made from raw materials where] Silica (sand), soda ash, limestone, and cullet (furnace-ready, recycled glass) are combined. [But materials are melted at very high temperatures in a furnace, which uses a lot of energy] (oberk.com)
  • … manufacturing [a] low weight PET bottle is [the] equivalent to manufacturing a glass bottle, which is heavier, causing carbon emission that’s similar to a PET plastic bottle (drkarenslee.com)
  • [some sources indicate reusable glass bottles beat out reusable plastic bottles across abiotic materials, water usage, and GHG emission indicators in production/manufacture] (giynow.com)
  • [glass is actually more eco friendly per gram in production across several eco indicators compared to plastic, but similar plastic items tend to be lighter – so, the totals of glass vs plastic items, especially for single use plastic items, tend to win out] (giynow.com) 

Transport & Delivery

  • Glass is usually heavier than plastic and also metal bottles, so it can cost more to ship and transport/deliver to where it needs to go. There can be more fuel used, as well as greenhouse gas emitted from increased fuel use. Glass also may not make as efficient use of packing space as plastic and some metals. Glass may also require more packaging in transport because of it’s fragility and potential to break.
  • Glass bottles [though] … are 40 percent lighter today than they were 20 years ago, which means it takes less fuel and produces fewer emissions to transport them (inquirer.com)
  • A 500mL glass bottle weighs about 400g, but a comparable 500mL PET bottle, cartoon or aluminium weighs about 10g … that 40 to 1 weight ratio is a very big problem for manufacturers and distributors. It means more wear and tear on packaging machinery, less efficient shipping and distribution, and, as a result, higher fuel costs and emission responsibility (tappwater.co)

Waste Management & Recycling 

  • Common soda-lime cullet [is] made from [recycling glass] bottles and jars (cen.acs.org)
  • [Glass has] an unlimited life and can be melted and recycled endlessly to make new glass products with no loss in quality. [And, using recycled glass in the form of] cullet [with new ingredient for new glass] benefits glassmakers, the environment, and consumers. [But, only about one third of the glass disposed of in the US gets recycled annually and the rest ends up in trash]. There is a 90% recycling rate [for glass] in Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries (cen.acs.org)
  • The UK currently recycles around 50% of [soda-lime-silica] container glass (like bottles and jars) … [compared to other types of glass like borosilicate glass, lead glass and glass fibre that are not widely recycled] (recyclenow.com)
  • Some curbside recycling organisations and facilities are choosing not to deal with glass because of increased processing costs and because they don’t have the proper equipment to clean glass properly [they choose not to or can’t upgrade recycling facilities and equipment], but others are choosing to recycle glass – so, glass recycling rates can be dependent on the city … [but] viability of the material, end markets, economics, supply and processing costs [all have to be considered with glass before recycling it]. There are some claims around glass recycling that broken and mixed glass are problematic, glass must be washed and cleaned, glass can contaminate other materials, and glass has no end market. But, [in some markets] Demand for recycled glass exceeds supply, [and many issues surrounding glass recycling can be fixed with the right glass recycling equipment] (recyclingtoday.com)
  • Glass is a fully recyclable material that can be recycled in close loop over and over again … This is particularly true for glass bottles which on average have a recycling rate varying from 50% to 80%. Thanks to glass recycling, significant amounts of raw materials are saved and natural resources are preserved. Glass recycling also helps in saving energy as cullets melt at a lower temperature than raw materials. Consequently, less energy is required for the melting process [and less emissions are produced]. (glassallianceeurope.eu)
  • There’s a 33% recycling rate for glass bottles in America (drkarenslee.com)
  • Glass is 100 percent recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality or purity. An estimated 80 percent of recovered glass containers are made into new glass bottles … [and] A glass container can go from a recycling bin to a store shelf in as little as 30 days (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • Glass can be more expensive to recycle than plastic (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • 50% of the energy is used to recycle glass compared to making a new glass (drkarenslee.com)
  • The advantage is that glass can be recycled almost infinite times. At least with non-clear glass … According to a study … switching from clear glass to green cuts packaging-related CO2 emissions by 20%. This is due to the higher recycled content in green glass bottles, which is as much as 72.4%, against an industry standard of 28.9% (tappwater.co)

Pollution 

  • More pollution is created in the manufacture, shipping and recycling of glass [than plastic] (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • Glass can take a long time to degrade in the open or in landfills – up to 4000 years.
  • Broken glass can be a health and safety hazard for humans and animals

Human Health

  • Glass generally doesn’t leach chemicals or have BPA issues like plastic might
  • [But, you might want make sure a glass bottle you buy has been] tested for lead and cadmium content (aquasana.com)

Usage

  • Using glass bottles can come with fragility and breaking concerns if not protected by an outer sleeve or pouch
  • Glass isn’t allowed into some places in public such as public pools or other places with a no glass policy
  • Glass is generally dishwasher safe

Other Notes

  • the best alternative for your health and the environment is glass (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • Glass is non-permeable and won’t absorb color, odor or taste (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com) … and there’s a reason wine and spirit bottles use glass [for purity of flavor]
  • Some glass bottles come with a plastic outer shell in case the bottle is dropped and broken … but glass has problems with fragility and breaking (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • Glass creates more than 6 times the global warming gases than plastic (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • Reusing a glass bottle three times lowers its carbon footprint roughly to that of a single-use plastic beverage bottle (tappwater.co)
  • … [one study shows that total] greenhouse gas emissions for the manufacture of the packaging and the transportation, [and] all other things being assumed equal, are 265 grams for [a] glass [bottle], 101 grams for [a] plastic jug, and 32 for [a] tetrapak. If the glass is reused 30 times it gets closer to tetrapak but that excludes the collection and transportation back to where the milk is produced (tappwater.co)
  • If glass bottles are made of 100% recycled material the carbon footprint will be 26 to 40% less [and around 80% of bottles are recovered currently] (tappwater.co)
  • [One estimate put glass at 1 million years to decompose, with minimal impact on wild life and glass decomposition residue] (tappwater.co)
  • … [the best glass bottle might be a] BPA-free borosilicate glass water bottle for yourself and each member of your family. These can be reused and they are non-porous and non-leaching, ensuring that one purchase saves years of waste and provides clean water throughout the day (shopkablo.com)

 

Pros & Cons Of Stainless Steel Bottles

Stainless steel bottles are generally reusable.

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • … SS uses iron ore, chromium and nickel – which all have to be mined, and processed, and metals extracted from the ore

Production 

  • Producing [a] 300-gram stainless steel bottle requires seven times as much fossil fuel, releases 14 times more greenhouse gases, demands the extraction of hundreds of times more metal resources and causes hundreds of times more toxic risk to people and ecosystems than making a 32-gram plastic bottle (archive.nytimes.com)
  • … the process that converts iron ore into stainless steel (where the steel is alloyed with chromium to prevent corrosion and create a shiny finish) is energy intensive (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • … [the process of extracting useful metal from ores can also cause air, water and soil pollution] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • …producing stainless steel results in about 10 times more pollution than regular steel … [but using recycled iron, and a lighter single wall design for bottles can reduce environmental impact] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • … the manufacturing process for stainless steel bottles is unsustainable … [it] requires the processing of nickel and chromium ores, resulting in ten times more pollution than ordinary steel … ore extraction is energy intensive [and releases pollutants] … (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)

Transport & Delivery 

  • [transport of stainless steel bottles makes up only 1 to 5 % of the environmental burden … the energy used by the store you buy the bottle and producing the bottle have the biggest burdens] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • [transportation costs of stainless steel are usually lighter than glass due to it’s lighter weight] (drkarenslee.com)

Waste Management & Recycling 

  • Stainless steel is 100% recyclable … The main alloying elements of stainless steel (chromium, nickel and molybdenum) are all highly valuable and can be easily be recovered and separated from other materials (bssa.org.uk) … [and] The amount of recycled stainless steel in any stainless object is approximately 60% (bssa.org.uk)
  • [it’s worth sending stainless steel back to a mill for recycling to cut down on mining and process of ores] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • [In Australia it is likely that aluminum and stainless steel water bottles would be picked up and recycled from kerbside recycling programs, and this can] offset some of the impacts of the original manufacture (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • [In Australia] both [aluminum and stainless steel] have achieved high levels of industry recycling. Approximately 75 per cent of the primary aluminium ever produced is still in use, while more than 50 per cent of stainless steel is made from remelted scrap metal. (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Pollution 

  • Unlike many other metals, in this situation stainless steel will have no damaging effects on the soil and water [when it finds its way into disposal sites] (bssa.org.uk)

Human Health

  • Some sources indicate metal water bottles may leach BPA [via a plastic liner or other means], many stainless steel bottles are actually made from aluminum … which is linked to Alzheimer’s, and Stainless steel bottles can leach iron, chromium and nickel into alkaline and acidic beverages (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • There are no known safety concerns associated with using stainless steel, assuming it is indeed stainless and lead free [so, look to see they are tested for this] (aquasana.com)
  • When made from culinary grade, lead-free steel, there’s no danger of chemical leaching [from stainless steel] (ogdenclinicblog.com)
  • … high quality SS [like Food grade #304 or 18/8 stainless steel] means, there is no nickel leaching … [and they] should not taste metallic either. Unlike aluminum bottles that need to be lined, SS does not need to be lined because of chromium’s unique protective layer that prevents any chemicals from leaching (drkarenslee.com)

Usage

  • [washing a SS bottle in a hot dishwasher 50 to 100 times can cause the same amount of pollution as was caused in making the bottle … whereas a cold water wash is substantially better environmentally] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • SS bottles are usually very durable, hardy, and some can come with lifetime guarantees

Other Notes

  • Overall, if your stainless steel bottle takes the place of 50 plastic bottles, the climate is better off, and if it gets used 500 times, it beats plastic in all the environment-impact categories studied in a life cycle assessment (archive.nytimes.com)
  • If a steel or aluminium bottle is retained and reused for a number of years consistently, it is significantly better than a single-use, throw-away drink bottle in environmental terms, even if the PET bottle is recycled (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • Some stainless bottles actually have plastic liners inside – make sure to look for options that are plain-old culinary grade stainless steel (aquasana.com)
  • If you choose to go steel, look for lead-free, stainless options marked as food grade #304 or 18/8, which indicates an 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel content (ogdenclinicblog.com)
  • Some people report a slightly metallic taste with stainless steel bottles (compared to glass which has purity of flavor)

 

Pros & Cons Of Aluminum Bottles

Aluminum bottles are usually reusable, but there can be the disposable single use aluminum bottles and cans (used for soda and alcoholic beverage commonly).

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • … comes from bauxite and depletion of resources is not really a concern (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • [bauxite mining can cause some environmental concerns] (earth911.com)
  • [one study indicates aluminum has a] greater ‘cradle to gate’ (raw material) environmental impact in terms of energy required and global warming potential than stainless steel (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Production 

  • Aluminium production is one of the most energy-intensive industries [which may lead to greenhouse gas emission concerns if electricity comes from fossil fuels] (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • … [a similar product to aluminum bottles is aluminum cans, and] making a can from an old can instead of the raw material uses five percent of the energy and generates five percent of the emissions (inquirer.com)

Transport & Delivery

  • Generally quite lightweight like plastic – leads to a smaller transportation footprint

Waste Management & Recycling 

  • As a commodity, aluminum brings a significantly higher price [than glass or plastic], so much of the cost of a recycling program is actually paid for by [aluminum cans]
  • Today’s typical [aluminum] can contains 68 percent recycled content

Pollution

  • Aluminum generally has a low impact on the environment compared to a material like plastic when littered or dumped

Human Health

  • … the lining of aluminum cans contains bisphenol A [so, there may be questions around aluminum bottles too] (inquirer.com)

Usage

  • Aluminum is usually harder wearing than disposable plastic, very light, and doesn’t gave the fragility issues of glass

Other Notes

  • [When comparing aluminum to stainless steel via a life cycle assessment] aluminium was the worst performer for water use, stainless steel the worst for solid waste generation and the two metals the worst in terms of global warming impact. Overall, stainless steel was a slightly better performer than aluminium due to lower emissions from the mining of its raw materials and the production process (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • [For some beer brewers, aluminum cans are cheaper, more eco friendly, and can be taken places where glass bottles can’t be taken] (inquirer.com)
  • [Some companies are trying to accelerate development of bottles made partly from plants] (inquirer.com)
  • Aluminum bottles look like stainless steel, but are, in fact, very different. Aluminum is reactive with acidic liquids. So, aluminum bottles have to be lined with an enamel or epoxy that can wear away over time.  BPA is often a main ingredient used in epoxy… Aluminum may not always be dishwasher safe (aquasana.com)
  • [Medium estimates of the carbon footprint of different products are 488g for 4 x aluminum cans, 323g for [a single use] glass bottle, 250g for a single use plastic bottle, 32g for a tetrapak carton, and 24g for a glass bottle refilled 30 times] (tappwater.co)
  • If aluminium cans are made of 100% recycled material the carbon footprint will be 96% less [but only 45% of cans are recovered currently] (tappwater.co)
  • [One estimate put aluminum at 100-400 years to decompose, with low impact on wild life and metal scrap decomposition residue] (tappwater.co)

 

Further Ideas For Having A More Sustainable Bottle Footprint

  • Drink more from centralised points with reusable glasses, cups and bottles 
  • For example, drink water from the tap instead, with a cup or container, and, install a reverse osmosis water filter on your faucet and consider adding a water remineralizer to ensure you are not drinking sterilized water (shopkablo.com)
  • Drink from a keg or wine tap instead of individually packaged alcohol bottles
  • Drink other beverages from a soda stream or single point instead of individually packed cans and bottles
  • Re-use all new bottles as many times as possible
  • Repurpose bottles where you can instead of or before throwing them out
  • Buy as few new bottles as you can
  • Buy locally made where you can
  • Offer more public bottle water refill fountains and stations
  • Have more bulk food and beverage stores where people can bring existing bottles, containers and storage items to re-fill
  • Ban or penalise the sale of disposable bottles only where these types of bottles are completely unnecessary
  • Governments can help developing nations who don’t have clean water in the long term by investing in clean water infrastructure instead of sending bottled water to these countries

It’s important to note though that initiatives like re-fill schemes can have economic, logistical and other challenges for businesses, private and public parties, so, this is something that needs proven feasibility in the long term to work effectively.

 

What About Boxed/Carton/Paper Based Water Bottles?

Read more in this guide about whether boxed water packaging might be better and more sustainable than bottles made of plastic and other materials.

 

Sources

1. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/04/19/opinion/20090419bottle.html?_r=0

2. https://tappwater.co/us/footprint-of-glass-vs-plastic-vs-aluminium-best-choice/

3. https://www.drkarenslee.com/comparing-reusable-bottles-stainless-steel-glass-plastic/

4. https://www.down2earthmaterials.ie/2013/02/14/decompose/

5. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/steel_glass_and_or_plastic_bottles_what_is_the_best_choice

6. https://earth911.com/living-well-being/recycled-beverage-containers/

7. https://www.biome.com.au/blog/how-to-choose-the-right-water-bottle/

8. https://www.ogdenclinicblog.com/choosing-a-water-bottle/

9. https://www.aquasana.com/info/education/bottle-battle

10. https://www.inquirer.com/philly/health/environment/20120723_Which_is_greener__Glass_bottles__plastic_bottles__or_aluminum_cans_.html

11. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/steel_glass_and_or_plastic_bottles_what_is_the_best_choice

12. https://shopkablo.com/blogs/the-reformist/the-environmental-impact-of-plastic-water-bottles-and-all-you-need-to-know

13. https://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/features/2436/plastic-vs-stainless-steel-vs-aluminium-reusable-water-bottles?page=0%2C0

14. https://www.oberk.com/packaging-crash-course/glass-bottle-formation

15. http://blog.glassticwaterbottle.com/glass-water-bottles-vs-stainless-steel-better/

16. https://www.agc-glass.eu/en/sustainability/environmental-achievements/environmental-impact

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

18. https://blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com/environmental/articles/is-glass-or-plastic-better-for-the-environment

19. https://www.recyclenow.com/recycling-knowledge/how-is-it-recycled/glass

20. https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6

21. https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/

22. https://www.glassallianceeurope.eu/en/environment

23. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-boxed-carton-paper-water-better-than-plastic-other-bottles/

24. https://giynow.com/2017/05/01/when-glass-is-more-sustainable-than-plastic/

Case Study: How The US Might Be Able To Increase Glass Recycling Rates

Case Study: How The US Might Be Able To Increase Glass Recycling Rates

This is a guide/case study with some main points outlining how the US might be able to increase glass recycling rates.

 

A Note On The Resources Mentioned In This Guide

  • The guide extrapolates on, and paraphrases or uses direct relevant quotes from an existing article by Cen.acs.org. You can view the full article here – https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6
  • The article listed by Recyclingtoday.com is also worth a read for an explanation of how glass recycling myths can be debunked, and what the right glass recycling equipment and facilities can do
  • We’ve also linked to our own guide about some of the pros and cons of recycling in general at the bottom if you’d like to read more

 

The Current State Of US Glass Recycling

  • [Currently, only about one third of the glass disposed of in the US gets recycled annually].
  • [Comparatively] There is a 90% recycling rate [for glass] in Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries

Note that this is a reflection of the national glass recycling picture in the US … cities and specific locations in the US like San Francisco may have much higher or lower recycling rates for different materials.

 

Benefits Of Recycling More Glass

  • Cullet (a granular material made by crushing bottles and jars usually collected from recycling programs) benefits glassmakers, the environment, and consumers [in several different ways]
  • Read about those ways and the estimates of these benefits in the original article

 

Potential Reasons For Current Glass Recycling Rates In The US (& Challenges & Difficulties)

  • [The lack of glass recycling in the US is not because there is a lack of knowledge of how to do it]
  • [Ultimately there’s many reasons more glass isn’t recycled … and these include] the interplay between the quality and availability of cullet and the economics of making glass, [and] differences [with other countries] in government policy and consumer education and habits
  • More specific reasons include …
  • … glassmakers are limited by what recycled material is available to them at a manageable cost [especially clean, furnace-ready cullet produced from single stream processing]. [Clean, furnace ready cullet is processed] inefficiently [in the US] compared with what happens in Europe
  • … US municipalities manage residential recycling primarily via single-stream curbside collection [that mixes glass with other materials … even non recyclables that incorrectly get thrown in the recycling bin … and contamination of glass can be a problem in this instance, along with sorting for material with commercial value]. [Roughly 40% of glass put in single stream recycling gets recycled compared to about 90% of glass put into multi stream recycling … and this mainly comes down to] the difference in the quality of glass from the two streams
  • [Multi stream recycling is far] is simpler on the processing end [than single stream recycling because glass is separated by consumers from other recyclables into glass only bins]
  • [A con to multi stream recycling is] a high level of consumer education [is usually required] and [it] is considerably more expensive than single-stream collection. [But, a couples of pros of multi stream recycling are that] the glass is much cleaner than what comes out of the single-stream supply, [and] glass can go straight to cullet processors [and skip sorting facilities]
  • Single stream recycling is ultimately an inherently inefficient and expensive recycling method. But most municipalities in the US stick with single stream because the collection costs are lower than those with multi-stream systems
  • Another reason is the size of the US, and distance between a materials recovery facility and a cullet supplier, or a cullet supplier and a buyer tend to be greater [than in European nations] … [and this presents an economic issue because transport is costly]
  • Another reason is that costs of recovering cullet are impacted by cullet specifications that vary between manufacturers [because different suppliers need to meet the needs of different manufacturers]
  • So, overall, we see costs and limited supply of cullet are an issue

 

How The US Might Increase Glass Recycling Rates

  • Implementation of multi stream recycling that separates glass from other recyclable materials, and separates glass from non recyclables that incorrectly get put in the recycling bins at the consumer level and contaminate recyclable material
  • Multi stream recycling can ultimately lead to ‘large quantities of high-quality cullet that are essential to further increase the recycled content in products’
  • To switch to multi-stream systems, US municipalities would need to introduce taxes or fees to meet the higher collection and handling costs. And most municipalities are reluctant to do so.
  • There would also need to be some type of subsidy to support transport of glass waste and cullet due to the distance between waste pickup locations, material recovery facilities, cullet suppliers, and buyers
  • Finding a way to standardise or streamline cullet recovery and cullet specifications for suppliers and manufacturers would also help
  • Local and state based glass recycling systems and facilities can help (recycling programs, cullet processors, suppliers, manufacturers, etc.)
  • Making recycling more of a social and cultural norm through education and awareness can help
  • Higher landfill costs can help – it discourages easy and convenient cheap dumping of glass into landfills, and encourages more recycling
  • Where recycling is legislated can help – Europe legislates nationally and not locally

But, ultimately, all parties need to work together – the honus and expectation can’t just fall on waste collection companies, manufacturers, and suppliers via legislation… consumers, government and other parties have to help and do their part to change and support the systems as well.

 

Recyclingtoday.com also gives examples of how common glass recycling myths might be debunked, and how the right glass recycling equipment (which requires upgrading most of the current equipment and glass recycling facilities) can solve some glass recycling problems. Read more at https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/

 

The Pros & Cons Of Recycling In General

Not all materials and products make sense to recycle in general, and then of course recycling can have different pros and cons based on the country or city in question (different cities have different recycling and waste management systems and capabilities).

Read more about the various potential pros and cons of recycling to consider in this guide: 

 

Sources

1. https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-and-cons-of-recycling-benefits-disadvantages/

3. https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-to-practically-increase-recycling-composting-rates-decrease-landfill-waste-a-san-francisco-city-case-study/

Pros & Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

Pros & Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

In the interest of finding out the best way to dispose of plastic, we’ve put together this guide outlining the pros and cons of burning/incinerating plastic

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

  • The reality is that it’s not always practical, possible or beneficial to burn plastic, or use it in waste for energy applications
  • Every local government needs to do a waste management assessment to figure out the best solution to manage or dispose of plastic in their region
  • Incinerating or burning plastic for energy may be beneficial in some ways, and have drawbacks in others. The same can be said for recycling plastic, and also sending it to landfill. The type of plastic, and plastic items and products need to be taken into consideration too (as each may present different challenges and variables)
  • The more sustainable options may be to use less total plastic, produce less total plastic waste, and re-use and repurpose plastic where possible and beneficial
  • Another way to say it is … reduce, reuse where possible, and then look at recycling … and then look at whether to bury or burn plastic

 

Pros Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

  • Burning waste can produce a lot of energy – enough to generate enough electricity for local grids in some instances. Energy from plastic can also be used for applications like providing energy to manufacture cement (bbc.com)
  • Plastic specifically as a material is more energy dense than coal – because it’s made of hydrocarbons like oil (nationalgeographic.com). Some plastic is made from natural gas too  
  • Plastic is a direct substitute for burning fossil fuels for energy in some instances 
  • Burning plastic addresses one of the biggest perceived problems with plastic – plastic takes a long time to degrade and break down. This means plastic spends a longer time in landfills, or out polluting the environment than other materials. Burning plastic addresses this problem (but admittedly, you are still left with emissions and waste ash to treat and manage)
  • If plastic production rates and totals increase into the future, burning plastic waste may be necessary – especially in places that are scarce of land for landfill, or that lack the recycling facilities
  • Emissions and air pollutants from incinerators can be managed – with scrubbers, precipitators, and filters to capture toxic pollutants and compounds such as dioxins, acid gases, and heavy metals (nationalgeographic.com). Bag rooms [also] bring [down] levels of pollution (treehugger.com)
  • Incinerator ash can be re-used or recycled, or simply treated and disposed of in a safe way
  • Pyrolysis may be the plastic burning method of the future – it has many benefits over conventional waste to energy and incineration, as well as over gasification (it doesn’t emit air pollution contaminants … only a small amount of CO2) (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Incineration of plastic provides an option for contaminated or non recyclable plastic – not all plastic can be recycled, and a lot of plastic is rejected or sent away from recycling facilities for different reasons. Incineration provides another option to dispose of this plastic next to landfill
  • Incineration can provide at least temporary relief for countries that need short term solutions to the China plastic import ban – incineration can ease the pressure on landfills for example

 

Cons Of Burning/Incinerating Plastic

  • Plastic is not a renewable resource (yet) – so, plastic incineration does not mask the fact that plastic products and waste being generated in the first place is unsustainable and causes pollution in a lot of ways before plastic can be burnt. Many sources indicate that incineration as it currently exists doesn’t contribute to a circular or sustainable society (pyrolysis can be the one exception to this though if the by products of plastic pyrolysis are used for new high quality material) (nationalgeographic.com). Burning plastic can be a non eco friendly and non sustainable easy way out for many countries and cities looking to take shortcuts or make profit in getting rid of plastic
  • Incineration technology can be expensive, and hard to scale – not every city and country can afford environmentally friendly or effective incineration technology. For example a plant in Scandanavia spent a billion kroner to try to meet the European standards for dioxin [emissions] (treehugger.com). Incineration can have various challenges that can make it harder to scale than say landfill. For example, incinerator plants need guaranteed streams of waste coming to them to be economically feasible in many instances
  • Burning plastic isn’t always energy efficient – plastics burned in incinerators set up to generate only electricity create heat at 25% efficiency. This is much lower than the 55% efficiency for new gas-fired power stations (bbc.com)
  • Recycling can be better than incineration of plastic in some ways – studies have shown that recycling plastic waste saves more energy—by reducing the need to extract fossil fuel and process it into new plastic—than burning it, along with other household waste, can generate (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Air pollution and air contamination from incineration emissions can degrade air quality and impact human health – toxic pollutants such as dioxins, acid gases, and heavy metals can be an issue. Additionally, these pollutants can only be captured with sophisticated technology, and the technology is only useful if combustion plants are properly operated and emissions controlled (nationalgeographic.com). Some sources indicate US incineration plants don’t meet the environmental standards that some European ones do, nor do they have the latest pollution controls (treehugger.com). Read more about waste incineration pollution, and ash control and management, in the thisiseco.co.uk resource below.
  • Greenhouse gases from incineration plants and plastics can be an issue –  In 2016, U.S. waste incinerators released the equivalent of 12 million tons of carbon dioxide, more than half of which came from plastics (nationalgeographic.com). When coal is phased out for generating electricity, incineration of unrecycled waste will be the most CO2-intensive form of generation (bbc.com)
  • Incineration ash can be hazardous and can be an issue – Waste to energy and incineration plants have incinerator ash that needs to be managed, recycled or disposed of in an eco friendly way
  • Even pyrolysis has it’s problems – pyrolysis is an expensive and immature technology, and it is still cheaper to make diesel from fossil fuel than from waste plastic (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Some sources indicate landfill is more eco friendly than incineration – In environmental terms, it is generally better to bury plastic than to burn it … [and there is the case to be made] that burying waste plastic in landfill is actually a cheap form of carbon capture and storage (bbc.com)

 

Other Resources On Disposing Of Plastic

 

Sources

1. Various other BMR guides on plastic and waste management

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/best-way-to-dispose-of-plastic-recycle-landfill-or-burn-incinerate/

3. https://www.thisiseco.co.uk/news_and_blog/what-happens-to-waste-to-energy-incineration-ash.html

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incineration

5. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/03/should-we-burn-plastic-waste/

6. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43120041

7. https://www.treehugger.com/plastic/single-use-plastics-are-being-incinerated-instead-recycled-usa.html