Glass bottles are more than four times as damaging to the planet as plastic onesbecause they require far more energy and natural resources to produce, according to a study.
Plastic bottles have a significant impact on the environment, requiring large amounts of energy to manufacture and causing huge damage to wildlife – and potentially to humans – as they break down into ever smaller components after use.
A massive amount of energy is needed to heat the raw materials to make glass. During the melting of the raw materials for glass, gas pollutants can be released such as sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide,” said Alice Brock, of Southampton University.
Large mining footprint
“And since glass requires materials to be mined for its production – silica sand, soda ash and dolomite – this has all the associated environmental impacts with mining such as land degradation and dust and runoff from the mines reaching water sources,” she said.
Silica sand mining can cause silicosis, a condition caused by tiny silica particles reaching the lungs, so there is also a considerable impact to human health, she says.
Around 20 per cent of the raw materials used to make glass are lost as CO2 and other gases.
Need to reuse glass bottles more
“I think the implications of this research are we really have to move to reuse bottles and cans. Just recycling isn’t enough. 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,” she said.
The environmental impacts in which glass outweighed plastic include contributions to climate change, freshwater toxicity, land toxicity, ocean acidification and freshwater eutrophication – when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of algae.
Tetra Pak-style fruit juice cartons, current milk cartons and 100 per cent aluminium cans are among the most environmentally-friendly containers, the study found.
“Despite being less impactful than the plastic bottles, both the milk carton and Tetra Pak still contain plastic elements,” Dr Brock said.