Sustainability is becoming increasingly more important to consumers. To answer this growing concern, companies worldwide are making changes to reduce their carbon footprint and leave a more positive impact on the planet. One of the most important ways companies can realize improved sustainability impact is through better product packaging practices.
When considering product packaging, companies have many material choices, such as glass and various plastics. Both materials are available in many standard sizes and shapes, and both can also be customized to a specific brands’ needs. However, if sustainability is important to your business, did you know that plastic offers significant advantages over glass?
Plastic offers greater sustainability in three key areas. At Drug Plastics, we think it’s important to provide all the information you need to make more informed packaging decisions for your products.
Continue reading or watch the video below to learn more about the sustainability benefits of plastic packaging.
Plastic Offers Better Sustainability of Raw Materials
Perhaps one of the most recognized benefits of plastic over glass is in its sustainable use of raw materials. Like glass, plastic production relies on finite natural resources; however, compared to glass’ constant drain on raw materials, plastic offers unique benefits in recycled applications. We explore the production processes of both packaging materials in further detail below.
The Glass Manufacturing Process
Manufacturing glass bottles can leave a large impact on the environment. Sand is the primary ingredient in glass. The sand is heated to extremely high temperature, melted into a liquid state, and then used in molds to make bottles. Although it may seem like we have a readily accessible and abundant supply of sand, it’s actually being used faster than it can be naturally replenished. In addition, high silica sand is required to make glass. Sand with a high silica content is typically found in active or extinct riverbeds and seabeds. Removing this sand can have far reaching consequences.
Displacement of sand negatively affects many ecosystems. Sand removal can cause damage to surrounding habitats, disturb river flows, and cause lasting harm. In addition, removing sand from the seabed also leaves shore communities prone to flooding and erosion. For these reasons, sand consumption is not the most sustainable or environmentally sound practice.
Sustainable Plastic Resin Options
Most plastic (not including bioplastics) are petroleum-based, relying on finite natural resources like oil and natural gas. Drilling for oil disturbs both the land and marine ecosystems. Often, dealing with oil can result in oil spills, which contaminate soil and water and may cause catastrophes such as fires and explosions. However, there are sustainable alternative plastics.
Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) Plastics
Recycling helps to conserve our natural resources. Because it requires significantly less energy, recycling plastic is more environmentally-friendly than recycling glass. Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) PET and PCR HDPE are planet-friendly options that are becoming more popular. Both resins help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are damaging our planet. In a circular economy, making new products from PCR resins removes plastic from the environment by converting plastic discarded by the consumer back into resin that can be used again. These resins are also fully recyclable in the current recycling stream. If you are considering switching from traditional plastic to a PCR plastic, you can calculate the savings both options yield by using our PCR PET and PCR HDPE sustainability calculators.
Bioresin HDPE is made with resin derived from renewable crops, such as sugarcane, unlike traditional HDPE which uses resins derived from fossil fuels. It is also 100% recyclable in the current HDPE stream. Although the supply on Bioresin HDPE is limited, future developments may make this option viable for all users in a few years.
If you currently utilize glass containers for your packaging, you can determine the savings when you switch from glass to traditional PET plastic or from glass to traditional HDPE plastic. Try our Glass to PET Conversion Calculator and our Glass to HDPE Conversion Calculator on a typical packaging order and see how you can improve your carbon footprint and reduce your costs.
Plastic Uses Less Energy to Produce
Producing glass is an extremely heat-intensive process and uses a large amount of energy. The raw materials are placed in a furnace where they are heated to 2600 – 2800 degrees Fahrenheit for melting. The temperature is then reduced as the molten glass is cut, molded, and blown into its final bottle form. The glass making process requires energy that is equivalent to 3.0 grams of CO2 per 1.0 gram of glass.
On the other hand, plastic utilizes less energy to produce. First, the hydrocarbon raw materials are polymerized into resin pellets using a reactor. Then the resin is shipped to a processor. At the processor, the resin is melted and blown into a mold to form the shape of a bottle using temperatures of 400 – 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The energy used to make and process plastic is equivalent to 3.8 grams of CO2 per 1.0 gram of plastic.
Consider this. Making glass bottles requires much more material. For example, an 82.2 gram glass jar at 3.0 CO2 equivalents per gram has a total impact of 246.6 grams of CO2 equivalents per jar. A lighter 13.0 gram HDPE plastic jar with 3.8 CO2 equivalents per gram has a total impact of 49.4 grams of CO2 equivalents. The plastic jar has only 20% of the carbon impact of the glass jar. It would take 5 plastic jars to equal the environmental impact of one glass jar. This demonstrates the full story when comparing the energy need to make glass versus plastic.
Plastic Has a Clear Advantage
The CO2 savings is significant with plastic. Use the example of an order of 1,000,000 2 oz. jars. In this scenario, glass jars yield 246.6 Metric Tons of CO2, but plastic jars only yield 49.4 Metric Tons of CO2. The difference? Plastic yields a savings of 197.2 Metric Tons of CO2. To demonstrate in familiar terms, this savings is equivalent to the following everyday items.
Plastic Uses Less Energy to Transport
Glass is very fragile and needs extra packaging during transport to keep it from cracking or breaking. In turn, a trailer can carry a greater number of plastic bottles because they use less packaging which takes up less space. When glass or plastic bottles are produced and ready for distribution, it still takes more fuel to transport glass products the same distance as plastic products because glass is heavier. More fuel means greater carbon emissions, resulting in a greater negative impact on the environment.
Understand the Differences and Help Save the Planet
Only you can determine whether glass or plastic is best for your product. However, if reducing your carbon footprint is a high priority, plastic has distinct advantages over glass. When you understand these differences, you can make more informed decisions about your packaging options.
At Drug Plastics, we invest in our customers’ success and value our partnerships. When you work with us, we provide you with all the information you need to make decisions that improve your sustainability, increase your bottom line, and improve your brand.
For more information, contact a knowledgeable team member, or speak with someone immediately at 610-367-5000.