Why can’t we just swap out plastic for other materials? Often times there are hidden downsides to using alternative materials, such as the creation of more greenhouse gas emissions.
Sometimes, packaging such as cartons is more difficult to segregate for recycling. “Packaging has become more complex of late, often being a mix of materials such as aluminum layered with different plastics to make baby and pet-food pouches. Most recycling facilities can’t handle these,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
Consider bottles, which have alternatives made from other materials. Consider these facts about alternative materials for containers.
- Aluminum cans are made from bauxite ore. Mining for this mineral leaves a huge carbon footprint. The mines have heavy impacts on water and ecosystems. Aluminum cans are over 4 times the material weight of water bottles for the same amount of liquid, meaning they take more to produce and more energy to transport. However, aluminum cans are recyclable–so be sure to recycle the ones already in existence.
- Glass bottles are very heavy compared to plastic and aluminum and require more cardboard when packaging–creating a very large carbon footprint during transportation. While highly recyclable, broken glass can be a safety hazard for both workers at recycling facilities and for consumers.
- Cartons, essentially juice boxes for water, are a newer product on the market. The boxes are lined with is a combination of different materials melded together (plastic, cardboard, and small amounts of aluminum) to prevent leakage. They often have more plastic in them than a water bottle. Americans don’t have access to a recycling plant than can handle the separation of the plastic and aluminum lining. The extra packaging material also increases both the input costs of manufacturing and the energy required to transport the materials.
This chart reveals that plastic bottles—perhaps surprisingly—have the least environmental impact to produce.