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Environment: Glass bottles are WORSE than plastic given the energy needed to make them, study says


Glass bottles are much WORSE for the environment than plastic because manufacturing them uses more energy and resources, study finds

  • Researchers from Southampton evaluated various types of beverage packaging
  • They considered the impact of glass and plastic bottles, cans and milk cartons
  • Part of the problem with glass bottles is that they are not reused enough today 
  • The most environmentally-friendly containers are cartons and aluminium cans

By Ian Randall For Mailonline

Published: | Updated:

The manufacturing of glass bottles is so energy- and resource-intensive that it makes them four times worse for environment than plastic bottles, a study has warned.

Researchers from Southampton evaluated the impact of various types of beverage packaging — including glass and plastic bottles, aluminium cans and milk cartons.

They concluded that plastic bottles are certainly bad for the environment, as their manufacture requires significant amounts of energy.

Furthermore, they are long-lasting after disposal and have the potential to break down and spread as microplastics which are thought harmful to health.

However, the team concluded, the total impact of glass bottles is worse once their energy footprint and the damage of resource mining is taken into account. 

Furthermore, glass bottles are all too often discarded after a single use nowadays, they said — despite being such having the potential to be reused 12–20 times.

The most environmentally-friendly drink containers, the team concluded, were milk and juice-style cartons and 100 per cent aluminium cans. 

The manufacturing process for glass bottles (pictured) is so energy-intensive that it makes them much worse for environment than plastic bottles, a study has warned (stock image)

‘A massive amount of energy is needed to heat the raw materials to make glass,’ paper author and environmental scientist Alice Brock of the University of Southampton told the i paper.

‘During the melting of the raw materials for glass, gas pollutants can be released such as sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide,’ she added.

‘And since glass requires materials to be mined for its production — silica sand, soda ash and dolomite – this has all the environmental impacts associated with mining.’

These, Dr Brock explained, include the degradation of the land, the emission of dust and the risk of mining runoff polluting water sources. 

Furthermore, the mining of silica sand can result in silicosis, an occupational health disease in which the inhalation of crystalline silica dust causes inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue — and is a permanent disease with no cure.

According to the researchers, around a firth of the raw materials that go into glass production are lost as greenhouse effect-inducing carbon dioxide and other gases.

Glass outweighed plastic in its negative contributions to climate change, freshwater and toxicity, ocean acidification and so-called freshwater eutrophication — the phenomenon when nutrient-rich waters induce dangerous levels of algal growth. 

Glass outweighed plastic in its negative contributions to climate change, freshwater and toxicity, ocean acidification and so-called freshwater eutrophication — the phenomenon when nutrient-rich waters induce dangerous levels of algal growth. Pictured, glass bottle production

‘I think the implications of this research are we really have to move to reuse bottles and cans. Just recycling isn’t enough,’ Dr Brock told the i paper.

‘We need to change our mindset and move to things like refilling bottles, bottle return schemes and the like if we are going to cut these environmental impacts.’

While cartons were found to be less harmful to the environment overall than both glass and plastic bottles, they still contain plastic elements.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Detritus

Eight million tonnes of plastics find their way into the ocean every year

Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled.

With half of these going to landfill, half of all plastic bottles that are recycled go to waste.

Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.

This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable.

Bottles are a major contributor to the increasing amount of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. 

Researchers warned eight million tonnes of plastics currently find their way into the ocean every year – the equivalent of one truckload every minute. 

The amount of plastic rubbish in the world’s oceans will outweigh fish by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to further recycle, a report released in 2016 revealed. 

At current rates, this will worsen to four truckloads per minute in 2050 and outstrip native life to become the largest mass inhabiting the oceans.

An overwhelming 95 per cent of plastic packaging – worth £65 – £92billion – is lost to the economy after a single use, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report stated.

And available research estimates that there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today.

Plastic pollution is ruining the ecosystems of the world, both marine and terrestrial. It litters shorelines, snags animals and suffocates entire populations of animals  

So much plastic is dumped into the sea each year that it would fill five carrier bags for every foot of coastline on the planet, scientists have warned. 

More than half of the plastic waste that flows into the oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. 

The only industrialized western country on the list of top 20 plastic polluters is the United States at No. 20. 

The US and Europe are not mismanaging their collected waste, so the plastic trash coming from those countries is due to litter, researchers said.

While China is responsible for 2.4 million tons of plastic that makes its way into the ocean, nearly 28 percent of the world total, the United States contributes just 77,000 tons, which is less than one percent, according to the study published in the journal Science.


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