plastic-sustainability-alternativesWhen working in the plastic sheet extrusion industry it is not uncommon to hear the objection that plastics are not a sustainable packaging solution. Studies that support this school of thought, however, have previously only focused on the negative impact on the environment, but never compare what a total switch to alternative, 'more sustainable,' materials would mean.  With sustainability and green packaging solutions ranking as a primary concern for consumers and brand owners in trend reports from 2016, this begs the question, is the alternative truly better for the environment? 

A recent study published by Trucost titled “Plastics and Sustainability: A Valuation of Environmental Benefits, Costs and Opportunities for Continuous Improvement” does just that. The results of the study show that while alternative materials can, in many cases, perform the same function, they come with higher environmental costs. Trucost estimates that this substitution would increase environmental costs from $139 Billion under “business as usual” volumes of plastic, to $533 Billion using a mix of alternative materials. This large increase can be attributed to having to use, on average, four times more alternative materials needed to achieve the same product.  

To reach this conclusion, the study applied natural capital accounting methods, placing a dollar amount on the environmental costs of a total switch in consumer goods and packaging applications to a mix of alternative materials such as glass, tin, aluminum and paper. “Natural capital” refers to natural resources such as clean air and water, and environmental services such as food and climate. Measuring and quantifying these environmental costs in monetary terms helps to highlight the impact that our choices make on the environment.

The results of this study are significant and expose a common misperception our industry faces. Plastics allow us to do more with less material, and you can go even further by choosing a resin with more sustainable attributes than an alternative resin.

To learn more about sustainable solutions from Impact, contact us today to discuss our capabilities!