Take a deep dive into plastic recycling and the environmental impacts of plastic, aluminum, and glass beverage containers. A recent lifecycle analysis published by the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), the industry group whose members made the 485 billion polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or #1 plastic, bottles that lined the shelves of groceries and convenience stores around the world during 2021, is sure to be controversial. These bottles frequently end up as litter in the environment. Lauren Laibach, director of data services at NAPCOR, joins the conversation to discuss the organization’s new analysis, which suggests that PET bottles have a lower environmental impact than glass and aluminum beverage packaging.

Lauren Laibach, director of Data Services at NAPCOR
Lauren Laibach, director of Data Services for the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), is our guest on Sustainability in Your Ear.

According to the report, which compared the packaging needed to deliver 1,000 gallons of beverages and not by comparing similarly sized bottles and cans, PET bottles require 80% less energy to produce, create 80% less solid waste by weight, and use 53% less water during production. In addition to the reported energy, waste, and water reductions, PET packaging purportedly has a 74% lower global warming potential and generates 6883% fewer acid rain- and smog-forming emissions. In 2021, however, only 28.6% of PET bottles and packaging were recycled, which lags behind the EPA’s reported 2018 data for metals, when 70.9% of steel cans and 50.4% of aluminum cans were recycled.

NAPCOR’s executive director, Laura Stewart, said that the new lifecycle analysis shows “A PET bottle is 100% recyclable and can be made with 100% recycled content.” That is an inherently controversial statement and we’ll do our best to tease apart these complex findings. You can read the NAPCOR study at napcor.com/lca-report.

This podcast originally aired on April 10, 2023.

By Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch is the publisher at Earth911.com and Director of Digital Strategy and Innovation at Intentional Futures, an insight-to-impact consultancy in Seattle. A veteran tech journalist, Mitch is passionate about helping people understand sustainability and the impact of their decisions on the planet.