Which Packaging is More Eco-Friendly – Glass or Plastic?

As a packaging design agency we are often asked to give advice concerning packaging options, particularly around sustainability issues. In this post we look at which packaging material is more environmentally friendly – glass or plastic.

Most people would instinctively say that glass is a more eco-friendly packaging option than plastic and research by the University of Oklahoma has shown that this is particularly true for consumers of organic products. But when you look into it in more detail it’s not that clear-cut.

 Green Packaging

How glass packaging is more eco-friendly than plastic:

  • The raw material for glass is silica sand which is abundant and easy to access. The raw material for plastic is crude oil which is a fossil fuel and is difficult to extract. Extracting the raw materials for plastic produces more pollutants than extracting the raw materials for glass.

  • Glass doesn’t degrade as it is recycled. Every time plastic is recycled it degrades and reduces in quality, it is more accurate to say that plastic is downcycled rather than recycled. Because of this most glass packaging is recycled back into packaging whereas most recycled plastic packaging becomes something else.

How plastic packaging is more eco-friendly than glass:

  • It takes less energy to produce plastic from its raw materials than it does to produce glass from its raw materials. Producing glass creates more pollutants than producing plastic.

  • Recycling plastic is more energy efficient than recycling glass.

  • Plastic weighs less than glass and therefore requires less energy to transport.

  • Glass is more prone to breakage during shipping than plastic. This is a waste of the packaging and the product along with all the energy and materials required to produce both.

When you start looking at the facts it isn’t clear which packaging material is the most eco-friendly to use. Local products packaged in locally produced glass containers could be more eco-friendly than plastic packaging, but if glass packaged products have travelled some distance to get to your local store (or even if just the glass packaging has travelled a distance to the producer) plastic could be the more eco-friendly option.

It has been difficult to find out the exact rates of glass recycling vs plastic recycling as they differ from country to country but you need to know that both plastic and glass are not biodegradable so be sure to recycle because sending packaging to landfill makes most of this eco-friendly debate redundant.

Posted 9 April 2015

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