Plastic is often a more efficient material to choose than alternatives. That's because plastics are incredibly energy efficient to manufacture and because they are lighter than alternative materials. Just two pounds of plastic can deliver 10 gallons—of a beverage. You'd need three pounds of aluminum, eight pounds of steel, or over 40 pounds of glass to bring home the same amount.
A recent study from Europe shows that, across various market sectors, using plastics instead of alternative materials helps to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Plastic jars can use up to approximately 90 percent less material by weight than their glass counterparts. Plastic containers also can use about 38 percent less material than similarly sized steel cans. And extremely lightweight, flexible packaging made from plastic or plastic-and-foil composites can use up to 80 percent less material than traditional bag-in-box packages.
In fact, replacing plastics with alternative materials would require the use of 57 percent more energy and produce 61 percent more greenhouse gas emissions.
In the United States, plastics are made primarily (70 percent) from domestic natural gas. By recycling plastics, we make that energy available for new products or for other purposes like heating and cooling our homes. For example, more than 4.2 billion pounds of plastics were recycled in the United States in 2009, saving enough energy to heat more than 2.1 million homes.
Plastic packaging plays a central role in providing sustainable packaging solutions. Lightweight, efficient plastic packaging protects products from farms to grocery shelves to kitchen tables while preserving freshness and reducing waste.
That's important because lighter weight means more product can be shipped using less energy, which helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, plastic milk jugs reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one-third compared to alternatives; a plastic tuna pouch reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 77 percent compared to a steel can; and a plastic brick coffee package reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 68 to 76 percent compared to a plastics canister or steel can.
This video below from the French Plastic and Flexible Packaging Association is a humorous but useful reminder of what life would be like without packaging.