Plastic or glass? – the formation process
Plastic is made of natural ingredients: from oil and gas. They are processed into monomers, from which polymers form as a result of the reaction known as polymerization. Polymers are long, heavy particles that are characterized by durability and plasticity. A polymer is not necessarily a human being: natural polymers, such as polysaccharides or polypeptides, are the building components of our bodies. In turn, polymers made artificially are the basis for the production of plastics.
The impact of the very process of plastic formation is not very burdensome for the environment. However, the extraction of fossil fuels is often such: especially where oil drilling is carried out in the oceans or the well’s efficiency is increased by hydraulic fracturing.
To produce glass, such as in bottles for water or other drinks, we need: molten sand (quartz source) and sodium carbonate, with the addition of limestone and sometimes … broken glass. All these ingredients, apart from pieces of glass, are natural.
Extraction of limestone is not indifferent to the environment – it can lead, among others, to contaminate water sources.
Plastic or glass? – transport
The cost of transporting plastic containers and bottles is lower – they are light and often have shapes that allow them to be packed quite tightly. It does not change the fact that transport filled with water or other liquids can be more burdensome for the environment than even producing plastics from which they are made.
The cost of transporting bottled beverages is a major problem that encourages you not to buy bottled water at all. Unfortunately, even though the tap water in Poland is of sufficient quality to drink after filtering, we still believe that it is better to buy it in bottles. In many countries this is going away – there is a fashion for drinking tap water.
According to the study included in the Energy Implications of Bottled Water report, the mere abandonment of bottled water would reduce the need for packaging by 23 percent. (assuming that we will still need bottled juices, carbonated beverages, milk, and beer).
What is the glass in this aspect? Worse than plastic – it is simply heavy, and more fuel is used to transport even empty glass packaging than to transport an analogous plastic packaging.
Recycling and environmental impact
Plastic packaging can be recycled. However, on a global scale, only 9 percent. packaging is recycled . The rest is burned (usually it is not just burning but a process that ensures smokeless smoking) or goes to landfills and to the oceans.
The plastic is flexible and durable. Its decomposition into smaller pieces can last 100 years, and the final degradation even 500 years. It should be remembered, however, that biodegradable polymers are formed all the time, which are simply eaten by microorganisms – they can decompose even in such a short time as half a year.
Glass bottles are much more widely recycled. Thanks to the obligation to calculate bail for a bottle introduced in almost all countries, they are commonly returned. Globally around 80 percent Glass packaging is being recycled . It is therefore much more common than in the case of plastic packaging.
What about the degradability of glass? While it is more easily fragmented (it is simply fragile), it can remain in the ground for thousands of years as chemically inert and non-biodegradable. In Żywiec traces of the settlement were found, in which workshops dealing with smelting of glass were conducted. Melted glass lumps were found virtually intact, even though over two thousand years have passed since the settlement’s existence! The time of natural reduction of glass to a material indistinguishable from ordinary sand is estimated even for four thousand years.
There are suggestions for processing glass by grinding into the sand, which is indistinguishable from natural. How does such sand work? The New Zealand Glass Sand For Turf project has shown that plants can grow on especially shredded sand made from recycled bottles. Researchers at Lincoln University have successfully grown vines on it.
How to contribute to reducing waste on your own?
Regardless of which type of packaging you choose, let’s remember about a few simple rules that will allow us to minimize the negative impact of our lifestyle on the environment:
- Minimize the number of packaging used. Let’s use water bottles to drink water, pour water from a bigger bottle into an empty bottle instead of buying a new one.
- Let’s segregate waste. Dropping the packaging from the right material into a suitable container will ensure that it will be recycled.
- Crush the packaging. Our Earth is not made of rubber – reduce the volume of rubbish by crushing milk cartons and plastic bottles.