The next time you need to quench your thirst, should you buy a beverage in plastic, glass, or aluminum packaging? Take a look at the pros and cons of each material so you know how to make the greenest choice.
When deciding between plastic, glass, and aluminum, plastic is the material that should be eliminated first. Why? The oil and natural gas that is needed to produce plastic is buried deep in the earth’s crust, which means manufacturers must drill through layers upon layers of rock in order to reach it. Unfortunately, drilling is harmful to the environment, so the process of producing plastic is not very eco-friendly.
But, that’s not the only reason you should reconsider buying plastic products. It’s estimated that plastic can take hundreds of years to disintegrate when sitting in a landfill. As plastic breaks down, it releases toxic chemicals into the environment. This problem can be avoided by recycling plastic instead of sending it to a landfill. However, most plastics can only be recycled once or twice. Once the plastic can no longer be recycled, it is typically used to create fabric, which will probably end up in a landfill at some point in the future.
There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing glass. One of the downsides of glass is its weight. Because glass is fairly heavy and fragile compared to other materials, it is much more difficult to transport. Products that are packaged in glass cannot be packed as tightly as those with aluminum or plastic packaging, which means it requires more energy to transport glass.
On the other hand, glass is 100% recyclable and there is no limit to the number of times that this material can be recycled. Glass that is recycled is used to create new glass bottles that end up in store shelves about a month later. By using recycled glass to create new glass bottles, manufacturers significantly reduce their carbon footprint.
It is easy to transport aluminum cans because they are lightweight and can be packed tightly together. For this reason, transporting aluminum is greener than transporting glass. But in order to produce aluminum, manufacturers need bauxite, which is a mineral that must be mined from the earth. Mining for bauxite is harmful to the environment and can lead to water contamination, erosion, and habitat destruction.
Fortunately, there are some pros to choosing aluminum. Like glass, aluminum is 100% recyclable and can be recycled over and over again. About 55% of aluminum cans are currently being recycled compared to only 34% of glass containers. Even when aluminum is tossed in the trash instead of recycled, it is often picked up and turned into recycling centers by those who want to redeem the 5-cent per can reward. The aluminum that does make it to landfills can sit for up to 500 years before it is fully decomposed. This may seem like a significant amount of time, but it pales in comparison to the millions of years that it takes glass to decompose.Which should you choose? The best two options are glass and aluminum. Both of these materials have pros and cons, but they are much more eco-friendly than other options found on supermarket shelves.