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Save The Environment – Use More Plastic Packaging!

Save The Environment – Use More Plastic Packaging!

 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

 

At some point when the current paranoia against Plastic Packaging subsides, common sense and The Environmental case for the use of more packaging made from Plastic must prevail.  Whilst this suggestion is counter intuitive in the current climate of plastic vilification, it is a fact of life that plastic is by far the most environmentally preferable material for packaging, particularly food packaging.

 Please consider the following:-

 W.R.A.P. (Waste Reduction Action Programme) originated the mantra Reduce-Reuse-Recycle in that order when considering the selection of packaging materials.  We have:-

 

Glass

If we apply this criteria to say using a glass milk bottle with a weight of around 460g against a plastic bottle of a similar size with a weight of 18g, this is a difference in weight of circa 25 times.  Now consider that the UK milk consumption is some 5 Billion Litres.  The extra diesel used to transport all this extra weight will generate thousands of tonnes of extra CO₂ emissions, and that’s just milk!  If we then consider the volume of glass jars used for packaging many other products, we can begin to appreciate the detrimental effect that glass packaging has on our environment.  The potential weight savings available by substituting plastic for glass are enormous (I have just checked our cupboards/fridge. We have 35 jars from jams to beetroot, from pickles to sauces – for 2 people).

Energy consumption – one more figure to consider before we leave glass.  1% of all the worlds energy is consumed by glass manufacture.

 

Aluminium Cans

Whilst aluminium cans do not have such a weight disadvantage to plastic as their glass alternatives, once again they cannot compete weight for weight with their plastic alternatives.  The weight differential for the most developed of containers is roughly 4 times the weight of their plastic counterpart, thus there would only be three times the number of extra vehicles required for transport.  However, the mining, transporting, crushing, smelting and manufacture of aluminium is one of the most energy intensive activities in the world.

 

Although I have little understanding of what the following statistics mean, the electrolysis process which produces aluminium uses 621 Billion kilowatts a year!  In Australia this process accounts for 12% of all energy consumption and whilst most aluminium cans consist of up to 70% recycled material, if this recycling process uses more energy  than the manufacture of virgin plastic containers, thus cans lose out to plastic environmentally both in weight and energy consumption as well as CO₂ emissions.

 

 Paper Board

I will be as brief as possible, but for any company contemplating using cartons/boxes instead of plastic pouches, please consider the following:-

 

Even if you ignore the obvious weight savings in waste produced from the alternative packs, you should not ignore:-

  1. The forests cut down to produce board/paper. They may be replenished but new trees absorb less than 20% of CO₂ than their older counter parts.
  2. Paper Manufacture is the 6th largest energy end use in the world with all the consequent CO₂ emissions.
  3. It takes 15-20 times the volume of water to produce paper/board compared with plastic. Water which is contaminated with chemicals which cannot be re-used or recycled.

 

Summary

If you really want a packaging solution which minimises the use of the earth’s resources as well as having the least adverse effect on the environment choose plastic.

 Aluminium cans come next with glass and paper 3rd and 4th.

 Plastic is 100% recyclable with Plain OPP, PE, PET being 100% reusable.   The plastic that cannot be reused can be recycled into energy (combined heat and power plants).

 

Problem

PLEASE google “rivers of waste” and note that 10 rivers deposit 90% of the pollution going into the world’s oceans.  Then note the emphasis on plastic, which is less than 2% of domestic waste.

So if, as claimed, 9 Million tonnes of plastic is entering the world’s oceans, there is 450 Million tonnes of other waste.  So if we were to have nil plastic we still have 440 million tonnes of other waste pollution.

So that’s all right then?

 

Solution

The plastic waste import ban in China means there is 111 Million tonnes of plastic waste with no home to go to.  The UK contribution was some 500,000 tonnes which is building up in warehouses around the country - this is a precious commodity – it has a higher calorific content than coal and acts as a catalyst when burned with other waste.

 Either the UK has to invest in facilities to collect and recycle the 80% of plastic waste which is reusable or follow the lead of countries like Japan, Switzerland, Denmark etc and invest in combined heat and power plants which can convert 100% of all plastic waste into energy, but however we choose to deal with “used plastic” it will still be the most environmentally beneficial material than the alternatives due to its lower consumption/contamination of the earth’s resources.

 

As ever, I would welcome your views on any of the points raised and you are also welcome to join me on LinkedIn.

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