- A new study from Trucost, commissioned by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), says that the environmental costs of using plastic are on average four times less than other materials.
- This calculation was determined by the weight of material needed to perform the same function. When accounting for all lifecycle factors—from production down to ocean damage—the study says plastic's environmental cost is $139 billion as compared to $533 billion for glass, tin, or aluminum.
- The study also recommended additional steps involving transportation, energy, and packaging that the industry could take to reduce this environmental cost by as much as $41 billion industrywide.
While this study is being seen as positive news it also doesn't offer full environmental absolution. The findings still back up a 2014 study by Trucost—commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme—which said "the environmental impacts of plastic cannot be ignored."
"Even though the plastics industry is probably a little bit uncomfortable with a dollar value being assigned to the environmental consequences of production, the more we can make better decisions to improve our business, the better," said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for ACC, in Plastics News. "As more and more companies … start looking at the consequences of their decisions, they need good information on which to base those decisions."
Many companies have already begun to implement some of the study's recommendations, but having a dollar amount tied to them could help encourage others to join. According to the report, $7.6 billion could be saved by increasing the use of renewable energy sources in production; $7.3 billion could be saved by a 30% reduction in food and beverage packaging; and $10.6 billion could be saved by a 20% improvement in fuel efficiency for transportation fleets.
Representatives of the glass, steel, and aluminum industries were of course quick to point out the superiority of their materials in a recent Bloomberg article. It's true that these materials also have their merits depending on the situation, just as every kind of material has its environmental costs. Finding ways to make the manufacturing process more sustainable, reducing unnecessary use, and ensuring that products can be easily recycled should be important areas of focus for all industries.