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Plastic, Glass or Aluminium - Which Is Actually The Worst Offender? The answer will surprise you.

by Alejandra Tello |

We hear a lot about how plastic is the most damaging packaging solution in terms of environmental impact. But is that really the case? We’ve all heard various frightening statistics and at first glance, the evidence seems quite damning. Nearly all types of plastic can be recycled, but only around 31% actually is. 10% ends up in the ocean. The rest ends up in a landfill. Microbeads, the grainy stuff in your toothpaste and facial exfoliator, end up in the stomachs of various marine life, and then eventually back on our plates. Pretty unappetizing, right? 

But is plastic actually the worst offender when it comes to packaging? The answer is yes - and no. To find out why let’s first take a look at the main alternatives. 

1. Glass 

Glass bottles in the grass

Glass packaging is recyclable, which is great, however the energy consumption during the tempering and heating part of the glass recycling process is enormous. And because glass is heavy and fragile (compared to plastic) and cannot be as tightly packed as plastic, more energy is needed for its transport. The extra pollution created due to these extra transport requirements is a downside when looking at how eco-friendly glass packaging really is.

2. Aluminium

Aluminium cans

Like glass, aluminium is fully recyclable - but there’s one catch. The manufacturing and recycling of aluminium leaves a huge ecological footprint. There are a few contributing factors: Although this metal is abundant in the Earth’s crust, extracting it from the ground and manufacturing it into aluminium products uses a lot of energy and creates a huge amount of carbon emissions. Then, there’s the toxic sludge waste product as a by-product of aluminium manufacturing that can pose a serious environmental threat. For example in Hungary in 2010, 35.3 million cubic feet of red sludge burst through a dam and inundated nearby towns and waterways. If you do buy aluminium products, make sure to recycle it so it doesn’t end up in landfill or as litter.

So, what’s the bottom line here? Is plastic actually a better option? Not necessarily! There are three main types of plastics that are used for packaging, and it’s super important to be aware of the differences. Here they are in a nutshell:

1. Virgin Plastic

This is basically brand-new plastic made fresh from small resin pellets. It takes a whole lot of resources to create Virgin plastic, and although it can be recycled, less than half of it actually ever is. For example, some countries, including the UK, don’t actually have the resources available to be able to recycle their own plastic waste. So we send our waste abroad to be disposed of, which is a costly exercise.


2. PLA Plastic

Polylactic Acid plastics are bio-plastics made from renewable resources such as cornstarch and sugar cane. This kind of biodegradable plastic does break down – but only under special circumstances. For example, PLA plastics wouldn’t breakdown in your backyard compost bin.

Used plastic bottles

3. PCR Plastic

You might have heard of post-consumer resin, which is a form of recycled plastic. PCR plastics are made by recycling existing PET plastics and other forms of plastics. This form of plastic is the most economical of all product packaging available on the market, and this is the reason why CYCLE’s packaging is made with PCR plastics. 100% of the material used to create our bottles come from recycled resources, which means that if every household in the UK switched to CYCLE, there would be literally tens of millions less plastic bottles sent to landfill every year. We think that’s a pretty good reason to give CYCLE a try!

CYCLE cleaner package bottle