Glass bottles are much worse for the environment than plastics because their production uses more energy and resources, a study finds
- Researchers in Southampton have evaluated different types of beverage packaging
- They looked at the effects of glass and plastic bottles, cans and cartons of milk
- Part of the problem with glass bottles is that they are not reused today
- The most environmentally friendly containers are cartons and aluminum cans
The production of glass bottles is so energy-intensive and resource-intensive that it makes them four times worse for the environment than plastic bottles, warns a study.
Researchers in Southampton have assessed the impact of different types of beverage packaging – including glass and plastic bottles, aluminum cans and milk cartons.
They concluded that plastic bottles are certainly harmful to the environment, as their production requires significant amounts of energy.
In addition, they are long-lasting after disposal and have the potential to disintegrate and spread as microplastics that are considered harmful to health.
However, the team concluded that the overall impact of glass bottles is worse, given their energy footprint and resource damage.
In addition, nowadays glass bottles are too often discarded after a single use, although they have the potential to be reused 12-20 times.
The team concluded that the most environmentally friendly beverage containers are cartons of milk and juices and 100% aluminum cans.
The manufacturing process for glass bottles (pictured) is so energy-intensive that it makes them much worse for the environment than plastic bottles, warns a study (pictured)
“It takes a huge amount of energy to heat raw materials to make glass,” paper author and environmental scientist Alice Brock of the University of Southampton told i paper.
“During the melting of raw materials for glass, gaseous pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide can be released,” she added.
“And because glass requires the production of materials – silicon sand, soda ash and dolomite – it has all the environmental impacts associated with mining.”
These, Dr. Brock explained, include land degradation, dust emissions and the risk of contaminating water sources from wastewater.
In addition, the extraction of silicon sand can lead to silicosis, an occupational health disease in which inhalation of crystalline silicon dust causes inflammation and scarring of lung tissue – and is a permanent disease without treatment.
According to researchers, about a quarter of the raw materials that go into glass production are lost as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Glass outperforms plastic in its negative contribution to climate change, freshwater and toxicity, ocean acidification and so-called eutrophication of freshwater, the phenomenon where nutrient-rich waters cause dangerous levels of algae growth.
Glass outperforms plastic in its negative contribution to climate change, freshwater and toxicity, ocean acidification and so-called eutrophication of freshwater – the phenomenon where nutrient-rich waters cause dangerous levels of algae growth. In the photo, the production of a glass bottle
“I think the implications of this study are that we really need to move to reusing bottles and cans. Recycling alone is not enough, Dr. Brock told i paper.
“We need to change our mindset and move on to things like bottle refilling, bottle return schemes and the like if we are going to reduce these environmental impacts.”
Although cartons have been found to be less harmful to the environment in general than both glass and plastic bottles, they still contain plastic elements.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Detritus.
Eight million tons of plastics fall into the ocean every year
Of the 30 billion plastic bottles used by households in the UK each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled.
With half of them going to landfill, half of all recycled plastic bottles go to waste.
About 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as waste.
This is largely due to the plastic packaging around the bottles, which is not recyclable.
Bottles contribute mainly to the growing amount of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
Researchers have warned that eight million tons of plastics currently find their way into the ocean each year – the equivalent of a truck every minute.
The amount of plastic waste in the world’s oceans will exceed fish by 2050, unless the world takes drastic action to further recycle, according to a report published in 2016.
At current rates, this will worsen to four trucks per minute in 2050 and will surpass local life to become the largest mass inhabiting the oceans.
The vast majority of 95 percent of plastic packaging – worth 65-92 billion pounds – is lost to the economy after single use, according to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
And available research suggests that there are more than 150 million tons of plastics in the ocean today.
Plastic pollution is destroying the world’s ecosystems, both marine and terrestrial. It floods coastlines, binds animals and suffocates entire animal populations
So many plastics are dumped into the sea every year that they would fill five bags for each foot off the planet’s coast, scientists have warned.
More than half of the plastic waste that flows into the oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
The only industrialized Western country on the list of the 20 biggest plastic pollutants is the United States at number 20.
The United States and Europe do not manage their poorly collected waste, so plastic waste coming from those countries is due to waste, the researchers said.
While China is responsible for 2.4 million tons of plastic that penetrates the ocean, nearly 28 percent of the world, the United States contributes only 77,000 tons, which is less than one percent, according to a study published in the journal Science.