New study examines environmental impacts of single-use beverage packaging
Demand for single-use beverage packaging will need to be significantly reduced after a new report by Zero Waste Europe found that the production of glass, plastic and aluminium beverage products were all projected to substantially contribute to climate change.
Glass was the largest contributor which has prompted calls for accelerating improvements to reuse systems and infrastructure as the heavier weight of glass makes it a better fit for that purpose.
The inclusion of glass in planned Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) is a hotly debated topic, especially in the UK, and this report offers a different perspective and pathway for end-of-life glass products, favouring reuse over recycling.
While recycled glass bottles still use 75% of the energy required to make new bottles, reusable glass has the greatest potential to reduce carbon impacts – producing 85% lower carbon emissions than single use-glass, 75% lower than plastic (PET) and 57% lower than aluminium cans.
The report warns however that even with significant decarbonisation efforts single-use beverage packaging use, including glass, plastics and aluminium, would still need to be reduced to help mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
Uncoupling material demand from economic growth will be key to securing a sustainable future as will be rewiring our relationship with resources to maintain current quality of life while we use less.
Circular economy specialists at Eunomia Research & Consulting were commissioned to investigate the net zero pathways for single-use aluminium, PET (plastic), and glass products when used in EU beverage packaging.
The report found that all three materials are projected to overshoot their share of the carbon budget, how much greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions they can respectively emit while staying within 1.5 oC warming, before reaching net zero by 2050. Collectively, they face significant challenges to stop or reduce the emission of global GHGs as the result of their manufacture.
- Even if beverage consumption doesn’t increase, the industry will still be producing far too much Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to avert the worst effects of climate change.
- GHG emissions per unit of packaging material are consistently 3-4 times higher for glass bottles compared to aluminium and PET throughout the decarbonisation process.
- Investment in technology, developing reuse systems, enhanced recycling, and reducing demand for aluminium, PET and glass materials are recommended as priorities to help the beverage container industry to achieve net zero in line with the 1.5 oC Paris Agreement target
Aline Maigret, Head of Policy at Zero Waste Europe, said: “This research shows the EU packaging policy is ill-equipped to deliver on the Net Zero agenda. Overall material use must be reduced in all packaging categories, and this speaks in favour of ambitious prevention and reuse targets. The new PPWR should plan a material transition away from single-use in general, but with a particular focus on glass and PET”.
Simon Hann, Principal Consultant at Eunomia Research & Consulting and lead report author said: “It is crucial that we prioritise long-term decision-making and acknowledge that the process of achieving Net Zero is as significant as the timing. Our study highlights the effectiveness of employing a carbon budgeting methodology to identify the most viable approaches for attaining this goal. When examining beverage containers, it becomes evident that we need to adopt a more strategic approach to decision-making that takes into account future implications.”