Beverage Container Showdown: Plastic vs. Glass vs. Aluminum

Once you’re searching for drinks, what sort of container do you select? You could have a number of choices: plastic bottles, glass bottles, or aluminum cans. What to decide on? The choice could be daunting for environmentalists. We’re right here to provide the lowdown on which of those receptacles will get the planet’s stamp of approval.

Step 1: How They’re Made

We see beverage containers always — lining the cabinets of the grocery retailer, filling coolers at BBQs, quenching a beachgoer’s thirst. Simply how did they get there?


Plastic manufacturing begins off with oil and pure gasoline. These uncooked supplies are transformed into smaller items known as monomers, and are then chemically bonded collectively to create lengthy chains, often known as polymers. These polymers are the plastic you see within the type of water bottles, meals packaging, and far more.

To get to the crude oil and pure gasoline wanted to supply plastics, we should head for the Earth’s crust. Nevertheless, oil and pure gasoline are buried beneath layers of bedrock — that’s the place drilling is available in. Drilling for oil in our pristine oceans and fracking for pure gasoline in America’s West is destroying our surroundings — and endangering our well being.


Liquefied sand, soda ash (naturally occurring sodium carbonate), limestone, recycled glass, and varied components make up the glass bottles that maintain our drinks.

Limestone helps forestall glass from weathering and it’s a worthwhile uncooked materials for glass containers. The sedimentary rock is usually mined from a quarry — both above or beneath floor. When it comes to the atmosphere, limestone mining might contaminate water and contribute to noise air pollution. Limestone mining can even destroy habitat for animals who stay in limestone caves, and might kind a everlasting scar on the panorama.

It’s secure to say that the uncooked supplies that go into making glass bottles are broadly obtainable within the U.S.


New aluminum cans are nearly all the time made out of bauxite, a mineral that the U.S. will get from mines in nations like Guinea and Australia. The mining of bauxite is harsh on the planet. Miners extract uncooked bauxite by means of ope -pits — basically, scraping a pit into the panorama and leaving environmental destruction behind. Bauxite mining contributes to habitat loss and water contamination, in addition to a slew of different unfavorable environmental impacts, like elevated erosion.

Step 2: Transport

When getting from right here to there, every container has a special footprint.


The environmental value of transporting plastic bottles can exceed even these of making the plastic bottle within the first place. This isn’t all the time the case — it is dependent upon the space of transport — nevertheless it’s a vexing concept.

For brief distances, plastic bottles have a low transportation footprint. They pack tightly — firms are positively responding to greener shoppers and are protecting sustainability in thoughts when designing the shapes of their bottles. They’re additionally very light-weight, so transport them consumes much less gasoline.


There’s one massive, simple, eco-unfriendly facet of glass bottles — they’re heavy. The transportation of glass bottles requires considerably extra vitality than their light-weight counterparts. Glass is fragile, too, so shippers can’t pack glass containers right into a truck as tightly as aluminum and plastic containers.


Individuals love cans as a result of they’re small, light-weight, and hermetic. Seems, the planet does, too. Their measurement means they save gasoline — extra cans can match right into a smaller house and their gentle weight means much less gasoline to get them from level A to level B. As a result of aluminum isn’t notably fragile, cans require much less cardboard packaging for transport, that means extra room for extra cans.

Step 3: The place They Finish Up

Empty — now what? Every of those containers is recyclable. Right here’s how they evaluate.


The recycling price of plastics is definitely fairly low — in 2017, solely 8.4% of plastic materials generated within the U.S. was recycled. The remainder was combusted for vitality or despatched to a landfill the place its destiny is unsure — it will possibly both discover its manner out and pollute our planet or sit within the landfill for as much as 500 years earlier than lastly decomposing.


Glass bottles are 100% recyclable and could be recycled endlessly with out lack of high quality. That’s not one thing you’ll be able to say about plastic. An estimated 80% of recovered glass containers are made into new glass bottles. When you toss your glass bottle within the recycling bin, producers can have it again on the cabinets in 30 days. Plus, utilizing recycled glass when making new glass bottles reduces the producer’s carbon footprint — furnaces might run at decrease temperatures when recycled glass is used as a result of it’s already melted right down to the precise consistency.


Like glass, aluminum cans are utterly recyclable and are generally recycled worldwide as a part of municipal recycling applications. And like glass, aluminum cans could be recycled repeatedly with no restrict.

In her e book, The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard notes that we’re at present recycling solely 45% of our cans. Meaning quite a lot of pit mining for bauxite to make new materials. Based on Leonard, people have trashed greater than a trillion aluminum cans in landfills since 1972, when such data started.

And the Winner Is…

If you could find aluminum cans made out of 100% recycled supplies, they need to be your best choice when searching for single-serving drinks. Their low transportation footprint and ease of recyclability make them a winner.

Nevertheless, the extraction of uncooked bauxite is detrimental to the planet. New aluminum cans are not eco-friendly.

Glass ought to be your choose if recycled cans aren’t an possibility. Glass bottles are made out of comparatively innocuous uncooked supplies and are, like aluminum cans, utterly recyclable. Their weight and transportation footprint is their downfall.

Plastic does have a small carbon footprint on the subject of transportation, nevertheless it’s powerful to disregard the large carbon footprint on the subject of manufacturing. Plus, the plastic that doesn’t find yourself in a recycling bin generally is a big pollutant in our surroundings, killing wildlife and contaminating ecosystems. Our irresponsible use of plastic is ravaging the planet.

Characteristic photos courtesy of Shutterstock

Editor’s notice: Initially revealed on August 11, 2017, this text was up to date in October 2020.

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