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Study Contradicts Conventional Wisdom: Replacing Plastic Packaging with Other Materials Would Have Adverse Environmental Impacts

WASHINGTON (November 9, 2018) –The new study, Life Cycle Impacts of Plastic Packaging Compared to Substitutes In the United States and Canada: Theoretical Substitution Analysis, finds that replacing plastic with alternative materials in packaging applications would cause increases in energy use, water consumption and solid waste, as well as increase greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), acidification, eutrophication and ozone depletion.

“This report builds upon established data on the energy and GHG benefits of plastics, compared to alternatives,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics, American Chemistry Council. “It expands our understanding of critical environmental benefits beyond energy and highlights key environmental indicators like water use and waste generation.”

Prepared by Franklin Associates for the American Chemistry Council, the study expands upon a 2014 report that used life cycle assessment methodology to assess the energy consumption and GHG emission potential of six general categories of plastic packaging produced and sold in the U.S. and Canada relative to alternative packaging.

Looking at the United States data alone, when compared to alternatives, production, use and disposal of plastic packaging across the six studied areas per year saves:

  • enough energy to fuel 18 million passenger vehicles,
  • enough water to fill 461,000 Olympic swimming pools,
  • waste equivalent to the weight of 290,000 Boeing 747 airplanes, and
  • the acidification potential of 292,000 railcars of coal.
“The findings challenge common misperceptions around plastics and underscore that plastic is a versatile efficient material that is helping to solve some of our greatest environmental challenges. However, we can’t realize its full benefits if we don’t work toward better end-of-life solutions,” said Russell. ACC and North American resin producers established a goal that 100 percent of plastic packaging will be reused, recycled or recovered by 2040. Meeting this goal and eliminating plastic waste in our ocean will further improve the environmental performance of plastic packaging. “We all want a world without plastic pollution, but we wouldn’t want a world without plastic.”

» Learn more: plastic packaging facts

Publication date: 09/11/2018

American Plastics Council

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31