Plastic Constitutes a Significant Environmental Pollutant
Plastic is a major pollutant on Earth and has a larger carbon footprint than other packaging materials. In fact, manufacturing one pound of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic emits three pounds of carbon dioxide.
It’s not simply the plastic itself that contributes to such a large carbon footprint. It is an extremely carbon intensive material to source, transport, manufacture, and dispose of.
In this article, we will explore the impact plastic has on a company’s carbon footprint, the risks involved in using plastic, and why plastic packaging is so widely used.
Production of Plastic
First things first, plastic is carbon intensive. This means that most aspects of producing plastic emit a lot of carbon dioxide into the air, contributing to a very large carbon footprint. On top of that, plastic is fuel and energy intensive.
It takes a lot of energy to produce plastic resin and transport it to various locations. To fully understand the impact plastic has on a company’s carbon footprint, let’s look at the entire process of plastic production.
Plastic is essentially a form of fossil fuel. Plastic resin is made from oil or gas and it takes a lot of energy to source each raw material. Drilling is involved which brings the potential for leaks at both the well-heads and in pipelines that are used in transportation.
What follows is a long chemical process where the raw materials are turned into plastic resin. During this entire process carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, contributing to a large carbon footprint.
Once the raw materials have been extracted, they need to be transported. Transportation is usually done through pipelines which require a lot of empty land. Land clearing to make way for pipelines contributes to even more carbon dioxide emissions.
According to the Center for International Environmental Law’s (CIEL) report, roughly 1.686 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are released due to land clearing. Clearly there is a lot more at play when it comes to carbon emissions during the production of plastic than most people realize.
The actual manufacturing of plastic packaging accounts for even more carbon dioxide emissions. Lots of energy is required to melt plastic resins into molds to create things like plastic containers, plastic bottles, plastic bags and other plastic packaging. What's more, once the plastic is created it needs to be cleaned, packaged, stored, and transported to consumers who will dispose of it. This final stage of the plastic production process accounts for about ⅓ of plastic’s carbon footprint.
Since plastic is popularly used as a packaging material, and since packaging tends to b
e single-use, plastic waste is frequently thrown away. When plastic waste is thrown away, it is disposed of either in a landfill, incinerated, or recycled. Incineration produces the most carbon dioxide whereas recycling is the most environmentally friendly form of disposal.
Before jumping head first into recycling all of your plastic packaging, it should be noted that recycled plastic is not the end all be all solution to a large carbon footprint. Yes it is beneficial, but only compared to incineration or sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years. To truly offset carbon emissions and minimize your company’s environmental impact in the packaging process, you will need to look at alternative, more sustainable packaging solutions.
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Traditional plastic is widely used around the world and it is hard to let go of. Plastic is strong, flexible, easy to use, and convenient. No wonder we use so much of it. But advances in technology are bringing more sustainable solutions in the form of bio-plastics.
Bio-plastics are derived from plants and are easier to break down naturally. Many bio-based plastics have the same attributes that make plastic such a versatile material but with less of a climate impact.
Of course another point of action you can take right now is reducing the amount of plastic your company uses. Whether you redesign your packaging to incorporate less plastic or you decide to switch to bio-based alternatives, cutting down on your plastic production and usage will play an important role in reducing your carbon footprint. Call Group O at 866-476-8761 today to learn more.