The benefits of plastic packaging are well known. It’s lightweight, less costly to manufacture, and fits many design needs. Now, a major scientific study shows that plastic packaging makes a significant contribution to sustainability because it uses less resources to produce and generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than alternatives.
Plastic packaging frequently delivers a wider variety of products, and in larger quantities per package, with significantly less waste, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions compared to alternative materials (glass, paper/corrugated, steel and aluminum). That’s the key finding from a study released in March 2014 by The American Chemistry Council and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.
Enhancing packaging’s environmental performance with plastic
The exhaustive study quantifies how using less material at the beginning of a package’s life provides many advantages throughout its lifecycle. And due to plastics’ high strength-to-weight ratio, these materials often make packaging lighter and more efficient than alternatives.
From beginning to end, plastic can help enhance a package’s environmental performance. These highlights and the infographic below demonstrate how:
- Plastic packaging is lighter to manufacture and transport.
- Today, the use of plastics in packaging across the U.S. market enables weight savings of 78% over alternatives. That’s a savings of 110 billion pounds annually.
- Other materials use 80 percent more energy – the equivalent of 91 oil supertankers.
- The potential global warming impact of other materials is 130 percent higher than plastic packaging.
Less plastic packaging material to recover and recycle
Even at the end of the lifecycle, plastic packaging has a more positive impact on the environment, versus alternative materials:
- Plastic packaging leaves less material to recover and recycle, meaning that it takes less effort to capture the value of the spent resource. And it’s never been easier to recycle more of the plastics we use every day.
- After use, plastic packaging can find its way into the recovery stream. Today, 94 percent of Americans can recycle plastic bottles. More than 60 percent can recycle other plastic containers like yogurt tubs, detergent bottles, and milk jugs. More than 90percent have access to recycling programs for plastic bags and other film. That’s a huge amount of potential plastic products destined for new lives in a multitude of purposes, and the recycling and plastics industries are constantly striving to boost those numbers.
Design for maximum environmental performance
If you take away one thing from the study, it would be to really consider the entire impact a package can have through the course of its life. Plastic can offer packages maximum environmental performance. It can suit the needs of many products, all while using less energy, reducing waste, leaving fewer materials for end-of-life management, and moving into the recovery stream at increasing rates. In the drive to creative environmentally efficient packaging, plastic is an option to consider.