Glass vs Plastic: Which One Impacts the Environment More?

For years, the largest debate about the environment focused on paper versus plastic. Another debate has surfaced that seems to be a little less clear regarding an answer. We see various forms of packaging every time we go to the store. Whether it’s soda, meat, or snacks, some are packaged in glass and others are packaged in plastic. Today, people are more conscious about their influence on the environment. Both glass and plastic impact the environment, but does one impact it more negatively than the other? To answer the question of which is better for the environment, glass vs plastic, we need to do some digging.

Pros for Using Plastic Packaging

It is cheaper and more convenient to create and recycle plastic packaging than glass packaging. If a company needed to choose between using glass or plastic packaging, the cheaper option would win out. Often times, major industries don’t take the environment into consideration when making these decisions. However, plastic is easier to recycle and more people are aware of the need to recycle it. If companies are more likely to choose plastic packaging, then it's more likely that the plastic packaging will be recycled.

Cons for Using Plastic Packaging

There have been numerous articles written that describe how plastic ends up in the oceans. When plastic ends up in the oceans, then it has a detrimental effect on the creatures residing there. Unlike glass, plastic doesn’t recycle into other plastic. It is often morphed into plastic lumber or carpet padding. The quality of the plastic is compromised as well when it is recycled or shall I say, “downcycled”. All new resources are put forth to making plastic packaging. Since plastic packaging doesn’t recycle well, companies often start from scratch to make plastic packaging. Lastly, a lot of plastic packaging ends up on the ground, whether accidentally or not. Littering has a very negative effect on the environment and the more litter there is, the larger the impact.  

glass vs plastic, mason jars, jams, shelf

Pros of Using Glass Packaging

Many people are unaware of how recycling plants recycle materials. In the case of glass, it is made into more glass. Essentially, glass recycles well. The integrity of the glass isn’t compromised during the recycling process, unlike other types of material. Much of the glass used for packaging is already recycled and the consumer can’t tell the difference. Also, there aren’t any chemicals used in making glass. Therefore, there wouldn’t be any chemicals released into the food. Overall, organic consumers prefer to use glass when it is recycled properly.

Cons of Using Glass Packaging

Glass packaging has a few cons associate with it. Glass breaks easier than many other materials. When the glass is broken, it makes it more difficult to recycle. Speaking of recycling, it is more expensive to recycle glass than many other materials. It takes double the amount of energy to produce and recycle glass. The more energy used in manufacturing is correlated to more pollutants that enter the air. Unfortunately, glass also produces 6 times more greenhouse gases than plastic does during the manufacturing process.

Conclusion to the Glass vs Plastic Debate

Regrettably, neither option is ideal in terms of helping the environment. Both have major cons that negatively impact the environment and pros that generally benefit the manufacturer. Plastic may be easier to make, but it also hurts the environment when not recycled properly. Although glass keeps its integrity through the recycling process, creating it produces gases that effect air quality. The ideal option would be to use reusable material, like bags and water bottles. If it is necessary to use either glass or plastic, then make sure to recycle them properly. That is the #1 way to help the environment as a consumer.     

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Bailey Longhurst

I am amazed every day by the beauty that this world provides for us and think it is important to preserve it! Taking care of ourselves and our earth is crucial and I want to help people discover new ways to do both. Publishing for Green and Growing is a unique way that I can get my message across, and I hope you all enjoy what we write about!

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