5 misconceptions about the plastic impact

Plastic is a very visible, tangible problem. Stand in the confectionary aisle, or the chilled aisle – any but the fresh produce aisle – and it’s easy to think that the main problem with all those items is the plastic packaging.

Plastic is a huge issue. By 2050 there may be more plastic in the oceans than fish. But the truth is that, looking around the supermarket shelves, the largest environmental impact is more likely to come from inside the product.

Here are five common misconceptions about the environmental impact of plastic.

  1. Plastic packaging is the largest contributor to a product’s environmental impact

Plastic is a huge source of environmental degradation. However, it is not the only source, and we need to remember this.

Actually, the product inside the package usually has a much greater impact. Packaged food products, for example, have largely invisible impacts including intensive agricultural production, energy generation, and refrigeration and transportation, as well as the processing and manufacturing associated with the food and its packaging. These impact soil quality and biodiversity around the world, and produce carbon emissions which contribute to climate change.

  1. The environmental impact of plastic is greater than any other packaging material.

While single-use glass and metal may be more appealing, they can have a greater impact on emissions.

Actually, plastic generally has a lower environmental impact than single-use glass or metal in most other impact categories. This is mostly because the transportation emissions of these heavier materials are greater. The one exception is aluminium, which is so light it is not much more carbon-intensive in its transport than plastic is. We should try to go without, or stick with reusable containers. In saying that, however …

  1. Reusable products are always better than single-use plastics.

To make reusable products more environmentally friendly than single-use ones, we need to use them many times, and not just buy them for the sake of buying a ‘green’ product.

Actually, reusable products only have lower environmental impacts when they are reused enough times to offset the materials and energy used to make them. This is because reusable products have more materials, and therefore probably used more water and energy to make, than single-use plastics. As a result, they will take longer to break down in landfill or the environment.

A key example of this misconception is the ban on ‘single-use’ plastic bags in Queensland and some other states. It is great that we’ve banned the throwaway bags – but we’ve replaced them with heavy duty ‘reusable’ bags, which are not always reused but will do greater damage when thrown out. A better solution would be to do without plastic bags at all.

So yes, buy that keep cup – but not if you’ve already got three. And to make it worthwhile, you need to use it and use it until it falls apart – and then you’ll have had an impact. Do not keep using disposable cups simply because ‘reusable ones are no better’. They are. You just have to use them.

  1. Recycling and composting should be the highest priority.

Remember the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. In that order. 

In reality, the environmental benefits associated with recycling and composting tend to be small when compared with efforts to reduce overall consumption.

The 3Rs of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ give us an idea of the hierarchy of ways to lessen environmental impact, but the last of the three – recycling – is often emphasised over reducing and reusing. However, but using less in the first place we can have a much greater impact then trying to deal with materials that we have bought but maybe don’t need.

However, for things that cannot be reduced or reused, we have a solution. We love our compostable bioplastics, which use less emissions to make than conventional plastics and can be put back into the production cycle.

  1. “Zero-waste” efforts that eliminate single-use plastics minimise the environmental impacts of something.

Just like any other item, buying more clothes than you need just because they might come ‘plastic free’ is not necessarily reducing your environmental impact.

The benefits of diverting waste from landfill are worthwhile, but small compared to the benefits of reducing consumption in the first place. Instead of buying a new keep cup when you’ve already got one that works, or buying three pairs of jeans from a company that posts them in biodegradable containers, why not stick with the keep cup you’ve got and buy only one pair of jeans? They all take resources to make – denim uses a lot of water and emissions, and keep cups need to be transported to wherever you bought them. Plastic is not the only issue at play, here, and we need to consider the ones that are less ‘visible’ as well.


If you want a more sustainable option for your business than disposable cups, why not head on over to our product page to see what we provide?


Information taken from Mirage News.

Read about Australia’s federal food waste targets, and 3 swaps to make your business more sustainable, on our blog.


Article by Tallis Baker

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