Plastic vs Paper vs Glass for environmental impact

Plastic has come to the foreground in the public mind as being the number one enemy for our environment. Images of plastics in the ocean, in sea creatures, birds, on the beach – these have shocked us to the core. And rightly so.

In a rush of green guilt, some people are turning their backs on plastic in favour of paper and glass, with the idea that these are more environmentally friendly materials. But are they? It’s important to look at the disadvantages of paper and glass, too and think about changing the way we use these materials rather than attempting to expunge them from our lives.

Paper

Paper production is a major cause of pollution – estimates suggest it causes 70 percent more than the production of plastic bags. It also adds to greenhouse gases. Paper bag production uses large amounts of resources – 1kg of paper uses 98kg of resources to produce. It takes more energy to produce a paper bag – perhaps four times as much, and more water in the production process as well.

On a positive note, paper recycling does have a lower impact, although paper fibre has a finite amount of recyclability before the fibres become too short; often recycled paper has a mix of recycled and virgin pulp to combat this.

Glass

Rather like our perception of paper as a natural product, which therefore ‘must’ have less impact on the environment, glass doesn’t have the same environmental bad-boy reputation as plastic. However, studies show that because glass is in general so much heavier than plastic, transportation costs are much higher, using more oil and gas along the way – the CO2 footprint of transporting glass containers is actually greater than the equivalent in plastic. Glass is more expensive in terms of material costs and production processes too. The good news is that glass can be often be reused time and again and is infinitely recyclable.

Plastic

Of course, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that problems caused by overuse of plastic are very real.  Those images of wildlife killed by ingesting plastic are not scaremongering, they are, sadly, true. Estimates suggest that plastic will take 500 or more years to degrade (and more in landfill). Recycling plastic can be very difficult – there are many different types of plastic, some can be recycled easily and others cannot. Sending our plastic waste to China to be burnt, affecting the health of local people, is not a solution.  

Let’s get positive! The one thing you can easily do to help is:

Reuse

There’s a lot of confusion and, at the moment, no simple answer. But as far as Nourish is concerned, the moral of the story is: reuse everything you can.

It’s hard to be plastic free, so be plastic clever. If you do use plastic items, then reuse them again and again – and again! Don’t ever use single use plastic – but equally don’t use single use bottles or paper cups.

At Nourish, we love seeing the variety of containers that our customers bring in to be filled, even plastic. Because if that plastic bottle is being used for the tenth time, then that’s exactly the right thing to be doing.

Other ‘Nourish tips’ include:

  • Keep a cloth shopping bag handy – some of these fold down pretty small so you can keep one in the car, your pocket or a handbag.
  • Shop local – traditional greengrocers and farm shops are far less likely to package their produce.
  • Actively support producers who package their goods effectively – vote with your wallet and don’t buy overpackaged products.
  • Have your own a home packaging reuse policy – use a plate or beeswax wrap instead of clingfilm, use cereal bags as freezer bags, use lunchboxes instead of sandwich bags.

At the end of the life of any packaging, recycle it if at all possible. Here’s a useful link for some recycling tips: Recycle Now


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