Recycling is not a new concept. Ever since the early 1990s, there have been news reports and scientific data focused on climate change and the deteriorating health of our planet Earth. The narrative around climate change and global warming has been emphasized more and more in this day and age, primarily due to the drastic consequences of carbon emissions occurring at quicker rates.
Carbon dioxide emissions are completely normal; these come in the form of ocean release, decomposition and breathing! However, carbon emissions can also occur as a result from deforestation and burning fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil etc.). Over the years, with a higher demand for goods and major growth in the industrial industry, our carbon emission as a society has significantly increased.
Glass and plastic are both created by burning fossil fuels however, the processes are not alike. Both materials have their advantages and disadvantages and you should know what they are before choosing between glass and plastic.
Round 1: Production
It all starts with fossil fuels. As mentioned earlier, both materials, plastic and glass, are created by burning fossil fuels. So, that gives them an equal playing field to work off of. However, glass is known to require more energy to produce and to ship. This is due to the fact that there are more steps or processes required to create glass from raw materials.
There is a reason why companies and conglomerates all over the globe use plastic for their products. Plastic, in its own sense, was revolutionary at the time of inception. It was much cheaper to produce and ship. For example, glass bottles were heavier, bulkier and more fragile.
This made it vulnerable to damage, such as breaks, during transit and more costly to ship. In addition, plastic was easier and faster to produce. This was cost-efficient for many companies, hence the reason why many decided to use it instead of glass.
Round 1 goes to plastic.
Round 2: Reliability
A product has to be easy and convenient for the consumer. When putting plastic and glass together, the question of reliability is more subjective. It depends on your needs. Both materials have very functional and practical uses, while having some pitfalls. We address the following below:
Glass is a great-looking material. The look, feel and general aesthetic of glass makes it very alluring. There is a more high-end and luxurious experience that you get with glass. Have you ever noticed that “premier” or high-quality water is typically sold in glass bottles instead of the plastic alternative.
Furthermore, there is an association with glass being a superior quality product in comparison to plastic. Some glass products are made with different types of glass that allow them to withstand high temperatures, such as an oven. Something that a plastic product is not able to do. Lastly, a glass product is 100% recyclable, made from natural raw materials. This allows a glass product to be reused and recycled.
Unfortunately, the less appealing side about glass is the costs and fragility. As mentioned earlier, glass requires more energy to produce and ship resulting in more costs hence, more expensive for the consumer. In addition, glass is extremely fragile, they are not kid-friendly as they can break easily (which is also very dangerous).
Plastic is famous for its durability. It can be molded and shaped in any way that you want it. It is a very malleable and easy material to work with, hence why it is cheaper to produce and uses less energy. This versatile and lightweight material makes it convenient and easy for consumers, especially children and the elderly population. On top of all that, plastic is cheap. A lot of businesses use it for their packaging because it is easy to ship and cost-effective.
But it’s not all rainbows and sunshine with plastic. Unfortunately, plastic is not quite sustainable; it is not easy to recycle (we get into greater detail about this is Round 5). Also, plastic has a notoriously bad reputation for being “cancerous”. Plastic does not cause cancer, there is insufficient scientific evidence to back up that theory. However, plastic is more permeable. What this means is that, if used incorrectly or stored improperly, harmful and toxic chemicals from plastic can possibly jump onto or into your product.
Round 2 is a tie.
Round 3: Costs
In this round, we discuss the costs of glass versus plastic for the consumer. It is no secret that glass containers are more expensive than their plastic counterparts. However, you have to take into account both short-term use and long-term use of those materials. In this example, let’s compare between a regular glass container and a regular plastic container (the type of container you use to store food).
The glass container is going to be pricier than the plastic container but you have to take into consideration how long each container will last. Glass containers are reusable products. With glass containers, you can wash them and reuse or repurpose them. Although you can do the same with plastic containers, the quality usually deteriorates after a few cycles of washing.
On average, a glass container can last anywhere from 1-5 years whereas a plastic container’s lifespan only extends to approximately 3-6 months. Glass products are more of an investment, you pay more for better quality and a longer lifespan.
Round 3 goes to glass.
Round 4: Sustainability
When we talk about sustainability in this generation, we are talking about maintaining the ecosystem. The ecosystem being: the relationship between planet Earth and human civilization and the coexisting that occurs. A lot of our actions reflect on our environment. More consumption and higher demands lead to complications with sustainability. If we continue to consume at this rate, the planet will sadly fall victim to demise. However, consumption is not a bad thing; it just has to be done at a sustainable, controlled rate. This includes recycling, reusing and repurposing. For example, clothing. Clothing factories emit copious amounts of carbon emissions due to high demands. Therefore, a more sustainable way to purchase clothes is by thrifting (reusing pre-loved items), recycling old clothes or even repurposing old clothes into new garments.
The same can be said for glass and plastic! Glass is a great sustainable product. You can reuse or repurpose glass jars,bottles, containers in any room in the house. It can be used for storage in the kitchen or laundry room. It can be used as decor for the house, in the form of a vase or terrarium. Plastic, despite its bad reputation, can still be reused and repurposed. Plastic bottles can be repurposed as watering cans, plant pots and more. The ideas are limitless when it comes to reusing and repurposing these materials.
Round 4 is a tie.
Round 5: Recycling
Recycling was mentioned a few times in the previous round, but we will talk about it deeper here. Recycling has been an effective way to reduce carbon emissions and ultimately, combat climate change. The intent behind recycling is to reuse materials that we have and convert them into new products. Although making new products may be cheaper and quicker, it does more harm than good to our beloved planet Earth.
Between glass and plastic, recycling is very different. Plastic, as mentioned earlier, can be recycled however, it is more difficult to achieve. The reason why plastic isn’t 100% recyclable is because plastic degrades with each cycle. When you recycle a plastic bottle, that bottle is not completely used to make new plastic, it is broken down into “microplastics” which are used to make synthetic clothing or carpets.
Most people refer to this process as “downcycling” instead of recycling. Glass, on the other hand, is 100% recyclable. The materials that glass breaks down into is able to be reused again while retaining its original quality. There is no loss in the quality of the material hence why glass is known to be more environmentally-friendly.
Round 5 goes to glass.
And the winner is…
After the judges deliberation, with a result of a 2-2-1 (2 wins- 2 draws- 1 loss), the winner is….. GLASS!
Ultimately, glass is a great sustainable, functional and effective material. It may cost a little more but in the long run, it is well worth the investment. Take a closer look at glass products here https://www.jarsinmalaysia.com/ at Jargeous, the one-stop shop for glass jars and everything related.
Written by @DrFatinDaud
Dr Fatin Najwa binti Daud is a junior doctor, content creator and copywriter residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She previously worked in marketing, specifically digital marketing, and business development. Dr Fatin is highly passionate about medicine and education. Her other interests include activism, humanitarian work, fashion and sports. You can find Dr Fatin Daud on LinkedIn.