How ‘green’ is plastic packaging

When assessing how packaging solves essential functions such as product security, food preservation and protection, it is essential to put into perspective the total lifecycle from production, transportation, usage and recycling. Only in this way can we gain a complete overview and understanding of the role of packaging in our lives.

In the lifecycle walk through below we summarise some of the most important points which make plastic so difficult to replace. The effects of not using plastic can lead to far more polluting solutions as unintended consequences which you can see explained below.

PRODUCTION

PLASTIC PRODUCTION PRODUCES LESS CARBON DURING PRODUCTION THAN ALTERNATIVES.

Less carbon is emitted during production of rPET than when glass or aluminium is produced. rPET and paper emit similar levels of carbon during production but rPET uses much less water.

LESS POWER STATIONS

If all plastic bottles used globally were made from glass instead, the additional carbon emissions would be equivalent to 22 large coalfired power plants producing enough electricity for a third of the UK.

TRANSPORTATION

FEWER EMISSIONS ARE PRODUCED WHEN TRANSPORTING PLASTIC PACKAGED GOODS COMPARED TO ALTERNATIVES.

Plastic is lighter and takes up less space than other alternatives.

LESS CARBON EMISSIONS

It would take on average 3.7 times more vehicles to transport goods if alternative materials were used to replace plastic packaging.

FUNCTION

PLASTIC PERFORMS THE SAME FUNCTION WITH LESS MATERIAL REQUIRED PER UNIT.

Plastic is lighter and thinner than alternatives and therefore takes less energy consumption to perform the same function.

73% LESS MATERIAL

A study investigating the effects of a theoretical substitution of plastic products in all application sectors in Europe showed that 3.7 times more alternative material is needed to perform the same functions.

RECYCLING

IT TAKES LESS ENERGY TO RECYCLE RPET COMPARED TO ALTERNATIVES.

The amount of energy required to recycle plastic and remanufacture is less compared to glass, aluminium and paper.

LESS GREEN HOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

If at end of life materials go to landfill, due to the high influence of methane emissions from biodegradable packaging materials, compared to plastic packaging alternative materials would cause 1.8 times the GHG emissions (based on 50% decomposition)

ALWAYS RECYCLE WHERE POSSIBLE

The advantages of recycling are huge and MACPAC has been recycling its own waste for over 10 years. Sometimes it is difficult for the busy consumer to understand the importance of recycling so we have put together some headline facts which show how important it is for everyone to recycle.

The importance of recycling graphic

The visible effects of plastic pollution have been widely publicised. However, in reality, plastics are created using a minority of the world’s valuable resources and account for a minority of the pollution in our oceans. Consider the following facts which give us a true perspective into how green plastic packaging is in relation to all other aspects of our lives.

PET Plastic accounts for 0.32% of the world’s oil production

When considering that rPET is typically made up of 80% recycled materials then the percentage of virgin materials used drops to 0.06%.

There is a common misperception that plastics use a large amount of the worlds petroleum. In fact, less than 4% of the world’s oil production goes to produce all types of plastics which go into everything from cars to buildings to household to clothing and so on.

Break down of plastics usage

Plastic in our oceans

It is commonly thought that plastic packaging is responsible for the majority of the microplastics escaping into our oceans. The fact is that the primary causes for microplastics are synthetic textiles and car tyre wear.

Even though they make up a small percentage of this problem there is still a need for plastic packaging to be disposed of correctly and recycled to lower the proportion of secondary microplastics.

If plastics are kept within the materials cycle, they cannot end up in nature and break down into microplastics.

Packaging only accounts for 1.5 – 2% of a consumers carbon footprint

The carbon footprint of a single flight (per person) corresponds to the carbon footprint of several years of packaging consumption by the average consumer.

MANCHESTER – GENEVA – MANCHESTER
= 5 YEARS OF PACKAGING CONSUMPTION
MANCHESTER – SINGAPORE – MANCHESTER
= 30 YEARS OF PACKAGING CONSUMPTION

PLASTIC PACKAGING CONSIDERABLY REDUCES GHG EMISSIONS BY PREVENTING FOOD WASTE

In the case of food the packaging saves considerably more GHG emissions whilst protecting the food and minimising food waste that it produces.

The GHG benefit of prevented food losses is (on average) at least 5 times higher than the burden of packaging production, if only 10% less of the packed food is wasted.

Source: The impact of plastic packaging on life cycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, July 2011. Authors: Bernd Brandt and Harald Pilz

When looking at how green plastic packaging is we have looked into how using rPET stacks up against using alternative materials for the same application, here is what we found out.

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46%

A study with a focus on plastic packaging used in Europe concluded that the alternatives for plastic packaging are on average 3.7 times heavier, and cause 2.7 times the GHG emissions of plastic packaging in total life-cycle.

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75%

A study with a focus on plastic packaging used in Europe concluded that the alternatives for plastic packaging are on average 3.7 times heavier, and cause 2.7 times the GHG emissions of plastic packaging in total life-cycle.

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Lighter than glass

Lighter than Glass, Aluminium and Paper alternatives for the same application therefore creates less emissions during transportation

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Lower energy

A study investigating the effects of a theoretical substitution of plastic products in all application sectors in Europe showed that 3.7 times more alternative material is needed (by weight) to perform the same functions. Substituting plastics would increase energy consumption in total life-cycle by 57 %.

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Incineration

By using 2000 tons of post-consumer material as recycled content for new packaging instead of that material going to incineration saves 3000 tons of CO2

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Raw material

By using rPET Macpac saves 1600t of raw oil for every 1000t of virgin PET it replaces

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Pollutants

Due to high emissions of PAH and hydrogen fluoride during aluminum production, the human and marine toxicity are disproportionately higher for aluminum that PET

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Fossil Fuels

At Macpac we recognise that virgin plastics are made from non-renewable sources which can be perceived as a negative, however in comparison to the amount of fossil fuel used to produce other everyday items such as cars it is a vanishingly small percentage. We also combat this by using at least 80% recycled content in our rPET so as to use as little virgin fossil based material as possible.

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Water Consumption

Comparing plastic to paper bags, the global warming potential of paper bag production was shown to be much higher due to the need for fertiliser during the tree farming and plantation. Moreover, cardboard production, as a common stage of paper packaging production, has significant water depletion potential. Paper packaging production is also responsible for greater ecosystem quality damage due to the land use required for wood pulp as a paperboard production input.

View sources
Paper Source papers:
Brandt and Harald Pilz, ‘The impact of plastic packaging on life cycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. Executive Summary’.
J. B. M. M. Biona, J. A. Gonzaga, A. T. Ubando, and H. C. Tan, ‘A comparative life cycle analysis of plastic and paper packaging bags in the Philippines’, 2015 International Conference on Humanoid, Nanotechnology, Information Technology,Communication and Control, Environment and Management (HNICEM), (2015), 1–6.

ALU source papers:
D. Amienyo, H. Gujba, H. Stichnothe, and A. Azapagic, ‘Life cycle environmental impacts of carbonated soft drinks’, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment , 18/1 (2013), 77–92.
J. Pasqualino, M. Meneses, and F. Castells, ‘The carbon footprint and energy consumption of beverage packaging selection and disposal’, Journal of Food Engineering , 103/4 (2011), 357–65.

The Packaging lifecycle

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In the lifecycle walk through below we summarise some of the most important points which make plastic so difficult to replace. The effects of not using plastic can lead to far more polluting solutions as unintended consequences which you can see explained below.

How Plastic Compares

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When looking at how green plastic packaging is we have looked into how using rPET stacks up against using alternative materials for the same application, here is what we found out.

46% less CO2 than glass*

A study with a focus on plastic packaging used in Europe concluded that the alternatives for plastic packaging are on average 3.7 times heavier, and cause 2.7 times the GHG emissions of plastic packaging in total life-cycle.

Up to 75% less CO2 than aluminium*

A study with a focus on plastic packaging used in Europe concluded that the alternatives for plastic packaging are on average 3.7 times heavier, and cause 2.7 times the GHG emissions of plastic packaging in total life-cycle.

Lighter therefore creates less emissions during transport

Lighter than Glass, Aluminium and Paper alternatives for the same application therefore creates less emissions during transportation.

Lower energy required during production than glass or aluminium

A study investigating the effects of a theoretical substitution of plastic products in all application sectors in Europe showed that 3.7 times more alternative material is needed (by weight) to perform the same functions. Substituting plastics would increase energy consumption in total life-cycle by 57 %.

RPET reduces the amount of material incinerated

By using 2000 tons of post-consumer material as recycled content for new packaging instead of that material going to incineration saves 3000 tons of CO2

RPET reduces the amount of raw material needed

By using rPET Macpac saves 1600t of raw oil for every 1000t of virgin PET it replaces

Fewer pollutants emitted during production

Due to high emissions of PAH and hydrogen fluoride during aluminum production, the human and marine toxicity are disproportionately higher for aluminum that PET

Low water consumption

Comparing plastic to paper bags, the global warming potential of paper bag production was shown to be much higher due to the need for fertiliser during the tree farming and plantation. Moreover, cardboard production, as a common stage of paper packaging production, has significant water depletion potential. Paper packaging production is also responsible for greater ecosystem quality damage due to the land use required for wood pulp as a paperboard production input.

Based on fossil fuels

At Macpac we recognise that virgin plastics are made from non-renewable sources which can be perceived as a negative, however in comparison to the amount of fossil fuel used to produce other everyday items such as cars it is a vanishingly small percentage. We also combat this by using at least 80% recycled content in our rPET so as to use as little virgin fossil based material as possible.

Paper Source papers:
Brandt and Harald Pilz, ‘The impact of plastic packaging on life cycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. Executive Summary’.
J. B. M. M. Biona, J. A. Gonzaga, A. T. Ubando, and H. C. Tan, ‘A comparative life cycle analysis of plastic and paper packaging bags in the Philippines’, 2015 International Conference on Humanoid, Nanotechnology, Information Technology,Communication and Control, Environment and Management (HNICEM), (2015), 1–6.

ALU source papers:
D. Amienyo, H. Gujba, H. Stichnothe, and A. Azapagic, ‘Life cycle environmental impacts of carbonated soft drinks’, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment , 18/1 (2013), 77–92.
J. Pasqualino, M. Meneses, and F. Castells, ‘The carbon footprint and energy consumption of beverage packaging selection and disposal’, Journal of Food Engineering , 103/4 (2011), 357–65.

The Importance of Recycling

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The advantages of recycling are huge and MACPAC has been recycling its own waste for over 10 years. Sometimes it is difficult for the busy consumer to understand the importance of recycling so we have put together some headline facts which show how important it is for everyone to recycle.

The importance of recycling graphic

Packaging in Perspective

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The visible effects of plastic pollution have been widely publicised. However, in reality, plastics are created using a minority of the world’s valuable resources and account for a minority of the pollution in our oceans. Consider the following facts which give us a true perspective into how green plastic packaging is in relation to all other aspects of our lives.

PET Plastic accounts for 0.32 % of the world’s oil production

When considering that rPET is typically made up of 80% recycled materials then the percentage of virgin materials used drops to 0.06%.

There is a common misperception that plastics use a large amount of the worlds petroleum. In fact, less than 4% of the world’s oil production goes to produce all types of plastics which go into everything from cars to buildings to household to clothing and so on.

Break down of plastics usage

Plastic in our oceans

It is commonly thought that plastic packaging is responsible for the majority of the microplastics escaping into our oceans. The fact is that the primary causes for microplastics are synthetic textiles and car tyre wear.

Even though they make up a small percentage of this problem there is still a need for plastic packaging to be disposed of correctly and recycled to lower the proportion of secondary microplastics.

If plastics are kept within the materials cycle, they cannot end up in nature and break down into microplastics.

Packaging only accounts for 1.5 – 2% of a consumers carbon footprint

The carbon footprint of a single flight (per person) corresponds to the carbon footprint of several years of packaging consumption by the average consumer.

MANCHESTER – GENEVA – MANCHESTER
= 5 YEARS OF PACKAGING CONSUMPTION
MANCHESTER – SINGAPORE – MANCHESTER
= 30 YEARS OF PACKAGING CONSUMPTION

PLASTIC PACKAGING CONSIDERABLY REDUCES GHG EMISSIONS BY PREVENTING FOOD WASTE

In the case of food the packaging saves considerably more GHG emissions whilst protecting the food and minimising food waste that it produces.

The GHG benefit of prevented food losses is (on average) at least 5 times higher than the burden of packaging production, if only 10% less of the packed food is wasted.

Source: The impact of plastic packaging on life cycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, July 2011. Authors: Bernd Brandt and Harald Pilz

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