Which beverage containers have the lowest environmental impact? | Environmental awareness is at an all-time high and most of us know that even something as minor as our daily groceries can have a considerable impact on the planet. Take fizzy drinks, for example. Every year, the average person tosses away hundreds of beverage containers, many of which end up in the oceans, where they endanger wildlife. What’s more, beverage containers generate tonnes of greenhouse gases, which is why many of us want to know which option causes the least harm when faced with this choice in the supermarket. For several years now, we’ve known that plastic bottles are a danger to the environment, but are they really the worst option when buying a drink? The answer may not be that simple because, as you will see below, it also depends on how many times you reuse a bottle and how you dispose of it later.
Biggest impact: glass bottles and plastic bottles
If we look strictly at the numbers, glass bottles have the biggest environmental impact. Although many of us choose glass bottles as an alternative to plastic, they require more energy and resources to produce. The production process isn’t that good for the planet either because it requires fossil fuels, and great quantities of carbon dioxide are released into the air.
According to a recent study from the University of Southampton, glass bottles are the most harmful type of beverage packaging, contributing to global warming and natural resource depletion and endangering wildlife when it’s not disposed of properly. Unfortunately, recycled glass bottles aren’t much better either; partly because the recycling process produces lots of greenhouses and partly because the glass recycling rate is currently too low.
After glass bottles, plastic bottles have the most significant environmental impact. Although plastic requires fewer resources to produce, it is made in much larger quantities, and, the biggest problem of all, 80% of PET water bottles end up in the landfill or in nature. It takes no less than 1,000 years for one single plastic bottle to decompose completely and while doing so, it releases microparticles that are harmful both to humans and wildlife. Plastic bottles can be recycled, but, unfortunately, the number of times that a bottle can be recycled is limited.
Lowest impact: aluminium cans and recycled aluminium cans
If you want to buy yourself a drink and worry as little as possible about the environmental impact of the container it comes in, your best choice is aluminium cans, experts say. Although they’re not exactly harmless, they give off the lowest levels of greenhouse emissions, and they also don’t consume that many resources. What’s more, aluminium doesn’t lose its properties when recycled, like plastic does, so the same can be recycled again and again. One study even estimates that 75% of all the aluminium ever produced is still in use today. As far as recycling levels go, aluminium also wins. To lower your environmental footprint even more, choose a drink that comes in a recycled can – this way, you’re discouraging the production of new cans.
So, this makes things simple, right?
If you’re craving a cold drink, stay away from plastic and glass and buy one that comes in a can, and you’re doing something good for the environment. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. When determining how high the impact of packaging will be, we also need to consider not only what it took to produce it, but also how it’s discarded.
For example, glass and plastic are, theoretically, more eco-friendly than aluminium. However, plastic and glass bottles can be reused, so if you find another purpose for them, then they’re better than buying an aluminium can and then throwing it away. For example, a glass bottle turned into a vase or table decoration or a PET bottle that you take to the gym with you for months may be a better choice for the environment than an aluminium can that immediately ends up in the rubbish bin, or worse, in nature.
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, learning about the eco-friendliest container packaging is just the first step. You also have to know how to avoid waste and adopt the principles of the circular economy.
How to avoid beverage container waste
Ending single-use beverage packaging is one of the top priorities for environmental organisations right now. Because we consume too many containers per person, specialists recommend buying drinks in refillable containers whenever possible. For example, if you’re going to buy a coffee to go, ask if they can use your refillable cup instead. If you’re going to the gym, take a reusable water bottle with you instead of buying one from the store. It’s also worth asking local authorities if there are beverage dispensers in your area where you can bring your own bottle and if a cash-on-return scheme is available at the supermarket.
Remember the order of the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Firstly, try to use refillable containers as much as possible to avoid buying new ones. Secondly, reuse the ones you do buy – there are countless ways to turn bottles into decorations and find a new purpose for them around the house. And lastly, only when you’ve exhausted all other options, dispose of the container by placing it in the appropriate recycling bin.
If you are in charge of a commercial venue, such as a restaurant, you might also want to consider investing in specialised containers that minimise waste. These containers are especially popular in countries with advanced waste reduction policies, and they are recommended because they save space and reduce waste collection bills. A compacting machine for cans (‘dase’ in Denmark for example) will also help you keep pests at bay and improves sanitation.
Whether they’re made of plastic, glass, or aluminium, beverage containers do not belong in nature. No matter how low their environmental footprint may be, if they’re not disposed of properly and they end up in nature, they become major pollutants and may endanger wildlife.
Free image taken from https://pixabay.com/photos/cans-drink-pollution-trash-1679022/