A new report commissioned by Veolia has claimed that plastic can produce the lowest carbon emissions compared with packaging alternatives, providing it is recycled properly.
‘Examining material evidence – the carbon fingerprint’, which is being published today by Imperial College, analysed over 70 life-cycle assessments to evaluate the environmental impacts of different materials.
These encompassed impacts across a material’s entire lifetime, including from mining, manufacturing, logistics, usage, and ‘end-of-life management’.
According to Veolia, this analysis concluded that plastic can produce the lowest carbon emissions of available materials, providing it is recycled properly.
Taking the example of plastic bottles, Veolia claims that a global switch to glass would create additional carbon emissions equivalent to 22 large coal-fired power plants.
The environmental services company says that the key to limiting environmental impact and carbon emissions is reduction, reuse, optimisation of recycled content and effective waste management of packaging at the end of its life.
Recycling ‘always wins’ over virgin production on all environmental indicators, in the example of plastics delivering a carbon emissions saving of between 30% and 80%.
“As we look to build the green recovery and achieve a net zero carbon world, this report helps to emphasise that plastic has a key role to play as a material, but only if it is responsibly minimised, produced, used and recycled,” said Richard Kirkman, chief technology and innovation officer for Veolia UK and Ireland.
“With only 9% of plastics being recycled worldwide, there is still a lot to do to improve things. We have done it for paper, metals and glass which are widely recycled, but plastic is a newer material and so we need the right policy drivers in place, backed by consumer and manufacturer awareness, to allow us to build the new recycling infrastructure.”
Nick Voulvoulis, professor of environmental technology at Imperial College London, added: “Plastics have a large and unacceptable impact on the marine environment, and potentially impacts to human and ecosystem health that are not fully understood, and cannot easily be incorporated into life-cycle assessments.
“We need to reduce plastics production, while ensuring that any alternatives do not contribute more to climate change.
“The findings of this study demonstrate that removing, reducing, reusing or recycling the plastic packaging placed on the market is an important part of the way forward, and a better option to replacing it with current alternative materials, or waiting and hoping for solutions not yet available.”
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