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The Carbon Intensity of Bottles

In recent years, the environmental impact of packaging materials has become a hot topic among consumers and industries alike. Among the various types of bottles, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles are widely used for packaging water, soft drinks, and other beverages. However, how do PET bottles stack up in terms of carbon intensity compared to other bottle types such as glass or aluminium? And how does the longevity and recyclability of these bottles affect their overall carbon footprint?

Understanding Carbon Intensity

Carbon intensity refers to the amount of carbon (in CO2 equivalents) emitted throughout the lifecycle of a product, from production to disposal. For PET bottles, the carbon intensity is relatively lower compared to glass bottles when considering production and transportation, mainly due to their lighter weight. A study published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment found that the carbon footprint of a 500 ml PET bottle is approximately 82.8 grams CO2 equivalent, significantly lower than its glass counterpart, which stands at roughly 330 grams CO2 equivalent for the same volume.

Longevity and Reuse Potential

The longevity of a bottle type plays a crucial role in its overall environmental impact. PET bottles are designed primarily for single use and have a lower threshold for reuse due to potential degradation and contamination risks. In contrast, glass and aluminium bottles, with their sturdier structure, are more conducive to multiple uses. Reusing bottles can significantly reduce their per-use carbon footprint. For instance, if a glass bottle is reused 25 times, its per-use carbon footprint can be slashed by up to 95%.

Recyclability and End-of-Life Impact

When it comes to end-of-life recyclability, PET bottles have a relatively high recycle rate, with advanced technologies enabling the recycling of PET into new bottles or other products, thus extending its lifecycle and reducing its carbon footprint. The recycling rate for PET bottles in the U.S. stands at around 29%, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources. However, glass and aluminium boast higher recycling efficiencies and rates, with aluminium being almost infinitely recyclable with only a 5% loss of quality each time it is recycled.

A Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) completed by Ecochain compares climate impacts per bottle, comparing a glass bottle with a new PET bottle and a 75% recycled bottle, the results place PET as a clear winner:

Tappwater go further and compare Glass, PET, Tetrapak and Aluminium:

The Impact of Reuse and Recycling on Carbon Intensity

The carbon impact of any bottle type is significantly influenced by their weight, the rate of reuse and recyclability. For PET bottles, increasing the recycling rate and developing technologies for more efficient recycling processes can further reduce their carbon footprint. For glass and aluminium bottles, the emphasis should be on enhancing reuse models to maximize their environmental benefits.

In conclusion, PET bottles offer lower initial carbon intensity compared to glass or aluminium simply because they are lighter. However, their single-use nature and lower recycling rates present environmental challenges. Conversely, the higher initial carbon footprint of glass and aluminium can be mitigated through repeated reuse and higher recycling efficiencies.

So, choose a bottle that you are able and happy to re-use multiple times, and never forget to recycle, recycle, recycle!


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