Surprise! Beer cans are less polluting than glass bottles

January 1, 2021 by No Comments

People are increasingly aware of the harm plastic waste causes to wildlife, and many would avoid buying single-use plastics if they could help it. But are the alternatives to plastic much better?

Let’s look at one example – fizzy drinks. You might assume that plastic bottles are the least green option, but is that always the case?

To find out, we compared five different types of pressurized drinks containers. We tested their environmental impact according to a range of criteria, including how each contributes to climate change and the pollution each produces during manufacture, use and disposal.

Here they are, ranked from worst to best.

Fifth place: glass bottles

It might come as a surprise, but glass bottles actually ranked last in our analysis. You might instinctively reach for a glass bottle to avoid buying a plastic alternative, but glass takes more resources and energy to produce. Glassmaking involves mining raw materials such as silica sand and dolomite, and that can release pollution which, when inhaled, can cause the lung condition silicosis.

High temperatures are also needed to melt these materials, a process overwhelmingly powered by fossil fuels. During production, the glass itself releases carbon dioxide.

Our analysis found that glass bottle production used the most natural resources, due to the sheer amount of material used. A one-liter glass bottle can weigh up to 800g, while a similar plastic bottle weighs around 40g. That extra weight means vehicles transporting glass bottles consume more fossil fuels to deliver the same amount of liquid. For these reasons, we found that glass bottles have about a 95% bigger contribution to global warming than aluminum cans.