Plastic bottles and jars are increasingly becoming the less favoured packaging option, we look at the alternatives and think of a sustainable way forward

The concern with plastic bottles and their effect on the environment has been with us for over 30 years now, however in more recent times the concern has accelerated as we all realise the effects our consumption and use has on the planet.

We take a look at the alternatives to the plastic bottle and jar and also look at whether we should completely abandon the plastic bottle and jar, whether there is still a place for them in our life.

What are the Major concerns over Plastic Bottles and Jars?

  1. They can take up to 500 years to biodegrade and can give off harmful gases if burnt
  2. They can leach harmful chemicals into the soil as they biodegrade
  3. They use up scarce resources in their production
  4. They are being found increasingly in the Marine world, either simply dumped in the sea, or as micro plastics inside fish and marine mammals.

Concern 1: Plastic Bottles and Jars take up to 500 years to biodegrade

This is true, however it shouldn't be forgotten that a Glass bottle if thrown into landfill will take millions of years to biodegrade, therefore in comparison to glass, it is far quicker. Aluminium will biodegrade in a quicker time of just 100 years, though it shouldn't be forgotten that in order to make aluminium usable in most applications it must be coated on the inside. This coating, normally involves some kind of plastic or resin that has the same decomposition problems as plastic.

Plastic should never be burnt in the open air, commercial incineration units have technology to remove the harmful gases that would go into the environment if burnt.

The technology does exist to make plastic biodegradable and by adding certain additives, this can be achieved. However, it is important to consider whether this is something that we want to actually achieve. If we make plastic that biodegrades, then the plastic will readily decompose into the soil and the raw material and energy that was used to produce that bottle will be lost to the soil. In order to produce a new item in the future, new raw materials will be required with the higher levels of energy input will be required.

Concern 2: Plastic Bottles can leach harmful chemicals into the soil as they biodegrade

This is true of some plastics such as Vinyl, however plastics such as PET and PP do not have this problem and will just biodegrade, albeit over 500 years.

Concern 3: Plastic bottles use up scarce resources in production

This is true of conventional plastic bottles which are made from oil, however using Post Consumer Regrind (PCR) and exciting new developments are allowing us reuse or fine alternative raw materials to be the source of the plastic.

Post Consumer Regrind is made from the recycled materials that we put in our recycle bins as well as many other sources. This plastic has the advantage of a far lower energy input than making plastic from new as well as reusing plastics to ensure they do not go into landfill or marine environment. The disadvantage for Plastic Bottles and Jars is that it isn't possible to produce bottles with such clarity with reused plastics. However, we feel this is a small price to be as it does not change the function or convenience of the bottle or jar.

New Sugar Cane Polymer is an exciting new innovation. Using Bio-Oil derived from Sugar Cane rather than traditional oil. It has exactly the same properties of plant based Polymers, is 100% recyclable and renewable and it is even possible to produce the bottles and jars which have a negative carbon footprint.

Concern 4: Plastic Bottles and Jars are finding their way to the Marine environment

This is one of the biggest concerns, plastic waste in the Sea is undeniably causing problems with Marine wildlife, with millions of deaths being attributed to Fish, Marine Mammals and Birds  daily to plastics. Glass and Aluminium, although still not good in these environments, pose a far lesser risk to Marine life.

The Alternatives to Plastic Bottles and Jars

As we have looked at above, there are alternatives to the plastic bottle and jar. Namely these are Glass and Aluminium. Each alternative packaging option has it's pro's and con's and we look below and the pros and cons of the different alternative packaging types.

Pros of Glass Packaging

  1. Offers good protection for the items stored inside
  2. Large mount of recycling facilities that can process glass
  3. Doesn't leach into the ground / marine environment if landfilled or disposed of incorrectly
  4. Recycled Glass only uses 40% of the original energy to produce new glass
  5. Glass can be recycled into its original form, it doesn't lose quality each time it is recycled

Cons of Glass Packaging

  1. New Glass is very energy intensive to produce
  2. Glass is heavy to transport and normally requires additional packaging in the form of Paper or other protective materials in transport
  3. Glass is prone to breakage and so can lead to increase product loss
  4. Glass isn't appropriate for all conditions, for example in bathrooms around children

Pros of Aluminium Packaging

  1. The lightweight of Aluminium makes transport relatively cheap
  2. Aluminium is capable of having very thin walls that keeps the packaging size to a minimum and thus lowers transport space
  3. Recycled aluminium has a relatively low energy input
  4. Aluminium is readily recycled throughout the world

Cons of Aluminium Packaging

  1. New Aluminium is often made from bauxite which has a high environmental cost in mining, still the majority of the worlds aluminium is from new source
  2. Although lighter, aluminium can take larger amounts of packaging in order to protect it from dents
  3. Aluminium always requires a coating on the inside to avoid it reacting with the product stored in it. This coating has additional environmental costs and is often based around a plastic or resin.
  4. Despite being actively recycled, it is still estimated that we have "binned" more than a trillion cans since 1972 with a recycle rate of 42%

Conclusion

There isn't a perfect packaging solution, all packaging solutions have their problems. The biggest solution to the problem lies in the consumer changing their habits to ensure more recycling and for governments and organisations to increase the facilities to recycle.

As a pure piece of packaging an Aluminium Jar or Bottle made from 100% recycled material offers the best packaging option, however we have seen that the transport costs and availability mean this is an unlike scenario.

At Naturallythinking we have evaluated our packaging options constantly. The vast amount of our packaging is sent via the internet across UK, Europe and the world, therefore one of our biggest concerns is weight and durability. For this, no other packaging solution beats the Plastic bottle. Across the world, there are vasts stores of plastic that has been manufactured for bottles and jars already in existence, for the short term simply switching from Plastic to an alternative material would lead to these bottles and jars being disposed of without ever being used, which would be an increased environmental waste.

We are going to work with our packaging manufacturers to transist to Sugarcane Polymer Plastics. Plastics which have the ability to be 100% renewable and produced with negative carbon footprint, effectively being a Co2 trap. We are going to encourage our customers to recycle and reuse bottles and jars responsibly as well as launch our refill scheme to customers to reuse their packaging and containers.