Choosing which materials to use in packaging is not easy. There are many considerations. In several projects in our history we have weighed up our options and the result has, so far, remained the same … glass wins out.
The COSMOS organic standards have strict guidelines that regulate which packaging materials we can use, but, as usual, we see these as a starting point. COSMOS standards ban many types of plastic … either because the production causes too much pollution or because they are not recyclable. The standards do allow a few different types of plastics (PET, PP, PETG, LDPE, HDPE) that are more environmentally friendly. The standards also allow glass, paper, aluminium and a few others. Which ones are best?
There are a few ways to look at the problem and there is no perfect answer, but this is how we thought it through.
First, we looked at the pollution in the production process, then we looked at the carbon footprint in both production and transport and, lastly, we looked at what happens to the material once it has been used.
In terms of pollution in production, glass wins once the full process is considered.
The carbon footprint is a bit more intricate. Glass has an embodied carbon value of 1,44 kgCO2/kg. This means that for every kilogram of glass produced, 1,44kg of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere. Plastic is substantially higher. As an example, polypropylene (PP) has an embodied carbon footprint of 4,49 kgCO2/kg. This means much more carbon per kilogram of plastic, but plastic weighs less and this means that in some cases, there is less embodied carbon in a product packaged in plastic and in others less in the glass option. This calculation takes transport into account.
The deciding factor comes in considering the fate of the packaging after it is used. In the EU around 73% of glass is recycled. The figure for plastic is 42%. In the USA, only 8,5% of plastic is recycled, and this is not increasing … it is down from 2015, when 9,1% was recycled.
Glass is made from sand and minerals. It is inert and does not harm ecosystems if it isn’t recycled. The same cannot be said for plastic.
We will continue to evaluate our options and to innovate on our packaging to reduce our environmental impact.