The Truth About Plastics
TRUTH 1Plastics are often the lowest carbon footprint packaging choice.
- The creation & utilization of lighter weight packaging lessens the environmental impact. Overall, plastics are lighter and more efficient than many alternatives. The lighter weight reduces their environmental footprint by decreasing waste, energy use and carbon emissions through the full life cycle of a product.
- Did you know that a flexible plastic pouch uses 62% LESS fossil fuels for the transportation of the empty packages & the finished products? And creates 75% LESS greenhouse gas emissions? And uses 80% LESS water than a glass jar/bottle?
TRUTH 2Biodegradable, Bioplastic(Compostable) & Oxo-degradable are NOT all the same.
- Biodegradable means: able to decay naturally and in a way that is not harmful to the environment.
- Bioplastic means: a type of biodegradable plastic derived from biological substances rather than from petroleum
- Compostable means: that a product is capable of disintegrating into natural elements in a compost environment, leaving no toxicity in the soil.
– Compostable means that a product can break down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass in small pieces in about 90 days. This rate is similar to items you might see in a backyard compost, such as leaves and paper. Compost works because millions of tiny microbes consume the waste and transform the organic material into compost. Compost has many beneficial uses including fertilizing and improving soil health—plus, it doesn’t leave toxic residue behind because it’s already organic.
– However, the main issue with packaging that is identified as compostable.
- Oxo-degradable means: Oxo-degradable plastic packaging is not a solution to soil or marine pollution – on the contrary, it contributes to microplastic pollution and poses an environmental risk.
– While often confused with biodegradable plastics, oxo-degradables are a category unto themselves. They are neither a bioplastic nor a biodegradable plastic, but rather a conventional plastic mixed with an additive in order to imitate biodegredation. Oxo-degradable plastics quickly fragment into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics, but don’t break down at the molecular or polymer level like biodegradable and compostable plastics. The resulting microplastics are left in the environment indefinitely until they eventually fully break down.
– Oxo-degradable plastics are conventional polymers (e.g. LDPE) to which chemicals are added to accelerate the oxidation and fragmentation of the material under the action of UV light and/or heat, and oxygen.1 The oxidation process enables a faster conversion of polymers into fragments. In theory, this fragmentation should then accelerate the process of biodegradation, i.e. the breakdown triggered by microorganisms into naturally occurring molecules such as carbon dioxide and water. This biodegradation process depends on multiple criteria, including the fragment size, the quantity of additives, and the environmental conditions to which the material is subjected (e.g. temperature, biotic factors) – conditions that vary significantly in practice.2 Packaging applications of oxo-degradable plastics include carrier bags, blister packaging, bottles, labels, and caps.3 – Oxodegradable plastics and similar materials are marketed and referred to in different ways, including so-called oxo-biodegradable, photo/thermo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable or pro-oxidant additive containing plastics – a terminology prone to confuse consumers, policymakers and companies.4
TRUTH 3The use of plastics for preserving food has reduced global food spoilage.
- Global food waste is a far-reaching problem with tremendous financial, ethical and environmental costs. The causes range from bumpy roads to overly-selective customers, but regardless of cause, we can all pitch in to combat this global issue.
- An estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally each year, one third of all food produced for human consumption, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
- The amount of food lost or wasted costs 2.6 trillion USD annually and is more than enough to feed all the 815 million hungry people in the world – four times over.
- And that plastic packaging helps protect food and extend its shelf life?
TRUTH 4Modern landfills produce more energy that solar power output in the USA.
- Did you know that modern landfills are capped landfills that capture methane gas, which is returned back to the grid to produce clean energy?
- Collecting and using biogas from landfills:
– Landfills for municipal solid waste are a source of biogas. Biogas is produced naturally by anaerobic bacteria in municipal-solid-waste landfills and is called landfill gas. Landfill gas with a high methane content can be dangerous to people and the environment because methane is flammable. Methane is also a strong greenhouse gas. Biogas contains small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a noxious and potentially toxic compound when in high concentrations.
Source: Adapted from National Energy Education Project (public domain)
- In the United States, regulations under the Clean Air Act require municipal-solid-waste landfills of a certain size to install and operate a landfill gas collection and control system. Some landfills reduce landfill gas emissions by capturing and burning—or flaring—the landfill gas. Burning the methane in landfill gas produces CO2, but CO2 is not as strong a greenhouse gas as methane. Many landfills collect landfill gas, treat it to remove CO2, water vapor, and hydrogen sulfide, and then sell the methane. Some landfills use the methane gas to generate electricity.
- The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2018 about 270 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of landfill gas was collected at about 352 U.S. landfills and burned to generate about 11 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity, or about 0.3% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation in 2018.
TRUTH 5Plastic bags are actually better than paper options.
- Study after study shows that conventional plastic bags are better for the environment because they have a much lower carbon footprint than paper bags.
- Life Cycle Assessments (LCA’s) also show that the manufacture of paper grocery bags has a heavier environmental impact than the manufacture of plastic shopping bags. According to the Scottish Government 2005 Report on Plastic Shopping Bags, the manufacture of paper bags consumes four times more water than the manufacture of plastic bags; paper generates three times more greenhouse gases; and almost three times more solid waste than plastic bags.
- The most significant and immediate impact of a switch from plastic to paper is the impact on municipal solid waste streams—the additional volume and tonnage from paper grocery bags which are heavier than plastic. The typical plastic shopping bag weighs eight grams, while the Kraft paper bag weighs 55 grams.
- This means that paper generates seven times more waste and increases recycling costs seven-fold. It also generates significantly more greenhouse gases because of the increased number of trucks needed to transport and recover the bags.