This Is Plastics: What Does It Mean to Be Environmentally Friendly?


What Does It Mean to Be Environmentally Friendly?

Looking at products' entire life cycles, rather than just one aspect, can help people make more environmentally friendly choices.


Top 3 Takeaways

How do we really know if something is “environmentally friendly?” There’s a lot to consider when deciding what material makes the most sense to create a particular product. Many people think glass bottles are “greener” than plastic, for instance. But glass bottles actually require 46% more greenhouse gases and 55% more energy to produce than plastic bottles do.

A life cycle analysis involves exploring a product’s inputs, outputs and environmental impact. It starts with the raw material that makes a product, and it ends with anything left over after a product has been used. Designers use this process to critique their products. Here’s what the lifecycle of a plastic product looks like:

graphic depicting a product's life cycle

When it comes to packaging, it’s important for people to have the ability to choose the product that best meets their needs. But it’s also important for them to be fully informed before they make a decision. Understanding an item’s full life cycle, rather than one part, is helpful in understanding which options are the most environmentally friendly.

The Benefits of Plastic Packaging

Overall, plastics are lighter and more efficient than many alternatives. Their lighter weight reduces their environmental footprint by decreasing waste, energy use and carbon emissions.

In multiple packaging categories, plastic is a better choice than glass. For example, glass baby food jars produce between 25% and 33% more greenhouse gases than plastic ones. Also, those plastic pots send fewer pollutants into waterways and required less acreage compared to glass jars.

glass baby food jar full of orange pureed baby food

Coffee Packaging

Flexible pouches produce much less waste and take less energy to make than cans or canisters. While they’re not recyclable by traditional standards, they’re able to be repurposed into valuable resources through energy recovery technologies.

graphic that shows the amount of locations, trucks and shelf space needed for a steel coffee can with a plastic lid compared to a flexible coffee pouch
graphic showing the environmental impacts of a flexible coffee pouch verses a steel coffee can

Plastic Bottles

Reusing and recycling are always the best options when it comes to bottle disposal, but these numbers hold true regardless of what happens to the bottles when they’re finished being used.

plastic bottles on factory line with text on top

Plastic Cups

ceramic coffee mug with text on itgraphic showing that more water is needed to make paper cups than foam cups

Want to do more?

Still have questions?