As consumers, we’ve all bought enough products to know that it’s possible to package them in environmentally responsible, recyclable materials — take, glass for example.
So why does the packaging industry make it so hard for companies to use it?
Compared to common plastic packaging, glass is a much safer material from a creation and recyclability standpoint.
First, glass can be recycled over and over and never lose its integrity. Meanwhile, common plastics lose integrity as they’re recycled – ultimately needing to be turned into a different material, such as plastic lumber or carpet padding.
Because of this, some say this kind of plastic isn’t truly recycled, but rather ‘downcycled.’
Second, glass jars can be made from recycled glass. But when a product is packaged in a common plastic bottle, jar, or other container, it’s often made out of newly created plastic.
And, when you look into how we get glass or plastic materials in the first place, that’s when glass really becomes the clear winner.
Glass bottles are made of liquified sand, soda ash, limestone and recycled glass. While it’s true that limestone mining can contaminate water, contribute to noise pollution, and destroy habitats for animals who live in limestone caves, the raw materials that go into making glass bottles are still widely available in the U.S. already.
Plastic manufacturing, on the other hand, has a much more negative impact on the environment — and our health.
To get to the crude oil and natural gas needed to produce plastics, we must head to the Earth’s crust. And because oil and natural gas are buried beneath layers of bedrock, we have to drill for oil drill deep and frack for natural gas wherever possible.
This is destroying our environment and putting our health at risk.
Plastic bottles are everywhere, and plastic-based bags are still the go-to material for many manufacturers.
When you consider the actual recycling rates of glass and plastic, it’s even more frustrating. Most glass bottles are 100 percent recyclable and an estimated 80 percent of recovered glass containers are made into new glass bottles.
But with plastic, the recycling rate is frighteningly low.
In 2014, only 9.5 percent of plastic material in the U.S. was recycled at all. The rest was combusted for energy or sent to a landfill — where it could either find its way out and pollute our planet, or sit in the landfill for up to 500 years before finally decomposing.
We need more glass co-packers to partner with companies who want sustainable packaging. We need a more durable, effective, and cost-efficient paper alternative to plastic bags. And most of all, those who work in the packaging industry need to take a hard look at themselves, and ask: Why is the environmentally responsible thing so hard to do?