This Is Plastics: Plastic Packaging Myth vs. Fact

Plastics 101

Plastic Packaging Myth vs. Fact

Plastic packaging provides critical benefits from protecting food supplies and preventing unnecessary food waste to reducing emissions. However, while some misconceptions about plastic packaging persist, a close analysis of the facts shows it generates less greenhouse gas emissions than alternatives, while keeping costs low for consumers.


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“Other types of packaging are more environmentally friendly than plastic.”

FACT: Plastic is one of the most sustainable, light-weight packaging options.

AMERIPEN estimates that replacing plastic could result in up to five times the environmental impact and generate nearly three times the greenhouse gases over the product’s lifetime. For example, plastic jars can use up to 90 percent less material by weight than their glass counterparts; as a lighter-weight material, plastic makes transportation easier and results in less fuel use, which in turn means lower emissions.

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“Reusable packaging materials are better for the environment than single-use options.”

FACT: Reusable alternatives require more energy and material than single-use options.

Reusable products are rarely reused enough to offset the environmental impact created by the additional materials and energy required to make them. Because the product is built to last longer, reusable alternatives require more material than single-use options and generally require more energy to produce, according to Shelie Miller, Director of the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan.

A 2018 study by the Danish government evaluated the number of times a bag made of various materials would need to be reused before being discarded, as compared to the standard single-use plastic supermarket bag. The study determined that polypropylene reusable bags would need to be used 37 times, paper bags would need to be used 43 times, and cotton bags would need to be used 7,100 times before being thrown away. Consumers, however, only use reusable grocery bags approximately 15 times on average, meaning that they are not only failing to offset the impact of not using single-use grocery bags, but actually increasing their impact on the environment from not using single-use grocery bags.

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“Plastic packaging greatly contributes to a product’s environmental impact.”

FACT: Usually the product inside a package has a larger environmental impact than the packaging itself.

Recent research indicates that the environmental impact associated with food production, for example, “far surpasses” the environmental impact of plastic packaging. By protecting food from loss and spoilage, plastic packaging actually helps prevent waste and ultimately reduces impact on the environment.

As another example, a study on coffee brewing systems determined that coffee pods place less stress on the environment than traditional drip coffee makers, suggesting that pod-style coffee may be the most environmentally friendly option.

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“Plastic packaging encourages a culture of waste.”

FACT: Plastic packaging does not increase waste – it reduces waste.

Plastic packaging greatly reduces the amount of food that is wasted. There are a variety of reasons why food goes to waste—bad weather, processing problems, overproduction, and unstable markets among them. However, food waste is most commonly attributed to the way it looks to consumers. Of the almost 50 percent of food wasted, about one-third is thrown away because of its appearance. Plastic packaging can nearly triple the amount of time a fruit or vegetable remains fresh and, in helping food preserve its taste and appeal for longer, significantly limit unnecessary food waste.

An analysis by Project Drawdown, a coalition dedicated to advancing climate change solutions, shows wasted food is responsible for roughly 8 percent of emissions around the globe. Further, reducing 75 percent of food waste by 2050 could save 18.8 gigatons in unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions.

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“Single-use plastics provide little value and their use should be limited.”

FACT: Single-use plastic provides life-saving benefits to society.

Aside from their everyday use as water bottles and takeout containers, single-use plastic packaging is versatile and offers life-saving benefits to society. Industries vital to our wellbeing, particularly health care and food safety, rely on sterile, single-use plastics to protect employees and others. Sterile plastics help medical professionals prevent the spread of infection and disease while safely administering medicines and lifesaving medical treatments—a benefit of increased importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bandages, syringes and plastic IV bags are just a few examples of the vital role plastics play in keeping hospitals safe and clean.

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“Bans on plastic would not impact the cost of products for consumers.”

FACT: Bans on plastic can lead to price hikes for consumers. 

Recent studies show that when soft drink manufacturers start transporting goods in alternative packaging like glass, tin or aluminum, costs skyrocket. Transporting drinks in the heavier containers requires more energy, produces more emissions, and increases transport costs by up to five times per bottle. Consumers bear the burden of these increased costs through higher prices.

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“Plastic packaging offers limited versatility.”

FACT: Plastic is widely used because it is so versatile. 

It’s difficult to think of a packaging material that offers more versatility than plastic, which can be molded into bottles, bags and pouches, containers, sleeves, trays, pots, plastic wrap, bottles and many more items. Because of its adaptability and flexibility, plastic packaging allows manufacturers to customize an item’s shape, size and style and keep up with changing consumer demands.

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“Plastic waste is an issue that is so big that government alone must solve it.”

FACT: Industry and government collaboration is crucial to eliminating plastic waste from the environment. 

Plastic waste is a complex issue that requires collaboration between industry and every level of government to reach multi-stakeholder solutions. Commonsense policies that invest in private industry and catalyze development of waste management and recycling infrastructure are among many strategies to collaboratively tackle plastic waste. Most recently, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation announced a $2.5 billion Ocean Plastics Initiative, which will invest in small businesses to boost the current 9 percent plastics recycling rate and, correspondingly, decrease plastic ocean waste.

Meanwhile, industry is leading the charge to innovate and find solutions that work for everyone by joining coalitions like the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and committing more than $1 billion to help end plastic waste in the environment. We are also investing in the production of bioplastics made from a wide range of important, everyday resources, such as wood, natural gas, and oil, as well as scaling up our chemical recycling efforts to convert hard-to-recycle plastics into new resources.

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