Debra Lynn Dadd

aluminum v. plastic v. glass


Hi Debra:

I am wondering what you can tell us about this subject: When making decisions at the grocery store, are we better off buying plastic, aluminum or glass (i.e. buying a soft drink)? Which of these choices has less environmental impact overall? I have read that recycling aluminum takes more energy than recycling plastic, but I also realize that plastic can only be recycled so many times.

Thanks in advance for your help on this!



Ah...this brings up one of my favorite subjects: life cycle analysis!

When evaluating the true impact of a product we need to look at everything from the raw materials, through manufacturing, use, and disposal, including energy use and how far it travels.

It isn't possible yet to get this kind of data for most products, which is why I don't talk about it much.

But we can make some educated assumptions.

Aluminum is made from a non-renewable metal that is mined, which damages ecosystems and produces mining waste. Since you asked about soft drink cans, most aluminum that gets recycled (about 60%) goes back into a perpetual cycle of making soft drink and beer cans. Aluminum cans can be remelted and back on the supermarket shelves in as little as six weeks. The aluminum industry says that cans average more than 40 percent post-consumer content, though this fact is not generally noted on the label. While that's good, 60% of a soft drink or beer can is new mined metal. Aluminum is safe to drink from, and can be recycled. It is fairly lightweight, so it requires less energy for shipping.

Glass is made from sand, an abundant resource. It is melted down and formed into bottles. It is safe to drink from. The drawbacks are it is heavier to ship, and breaks. At the end of it's useful life, it can be recycled, melted down, and reformed into a new product. In Nature, the elements break glass into pieces and polish the edges--sea glass is fun to collect on the beach.

Plastic is made from nonrenewable crude oil, which produces toxic waste in its mining and manufacture. It leaches into foods and beverages. Some plastics are recycled, but plastics that end up in landfills or ecosystems don't biodegrade for hundreds of years.

Looking at the big picture, I would choose glass.

But why are you buying soft drinks? It's better not to drink all that high fructose corn syrup. Have some water mixed with fruit juice or a squeeze of lemon instead. It's simple, refreshing, quenches your thirst, and detoxes your body.

Debra :-)


I agree with everything Debra said above and add a few more considerations.

I use recycled glass to make terrazzo countertops. There is an abundant supply because the bottling plants in the US are not buying it. They either want a cleaner source or are going to plastic. So, most of the recycled glass is ground up and used as land fill.

Recycled plastic is in very high demand. It is made into carpet, decking, and many other products. If you purchase plastic, it is important to recycle it.

Recycled aluminum will always be valuable. It makes it's way into many other products besides containers. The container manufacturers keep the recycled percentage to 40% for quality control reasons.

A large percentage of the container recycling comes from alcoholic beverages.


POSTED BY PAMELA ALLEN :: MD USA :: 11/08/2007 2:39 AM

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