Packaging Innovation
plastic packaging
March 12, 2014

Is plastic packaging saving or destroying our planet?

Most of us probably agree that plastic packaging is bad for the environment, yet what alternative packaging material do we have at the moment that’s as cheap as plastic and more environmentally friendly? A recent study from the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association has determined that six different categories of plastic packaging made and sold in the United States and Canada can even help reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions when compared to packaging made from other materials. So is plastic packaging saving or destroying our planet?

The study, “Impact of Plastics Packaging on Life Cycle Energy Consumption & Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States and Canada,” provides a transparent, detailed assessment that quantifies the energy and climate benefits of using various types of everyday plastic packaging compared to alternatives.

Plastic packaging: the lesser of two evils

The assessment found that for the baseline year 2010, replacing all plastic packaging with non-plastic alternatives for these six types of packaging in the United States would:

  • require 4.5 times as much packaging material by weight, increasing the amount of packaging used in the U.S. by nearly 55 million tons (110 billion pounds);
  • increase energy use by 80 percent—equivalent to the energy from 91 oil supertankers; and
  • result in 130 percent more global warming potential—equivalent  to adding 15.7 million more cars to our roads.

Is it safe to say then that plastic packaging is the lesser of two evils? For the moment, we simply don’t seem to possess the technology to come up with sustainable packaging alternatives for plastic. Does that mean we have to make do with the current situation?

Eco packaging vs plastic packaging

The packaging industry is looking for new and improved ways to reuse, recycle, recover and reduce the amount of raw material that is necessary for the production of plastic packaging. These efforts, while at the same time supporting efforts to prevent litter, are two key issues to solve the sustainability question the industry is facing.

Moreover, universities around the world are working hard with major packaging brands to come up with new biodegradable solutions. Eco packaging has yet to have its big breakthrough, although it could eventually become the green alternative for plastic packaging.