Plastic or glass: which needs more energy to recycle?

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Glass requires more energy to recycle than plastic due to its initial production process. However, glass can last longer and preserve taste better. The “reduce, reuse, recycle” hierarchy prioritizes reducing and reusing products before recycling. Recycling uses fewer natural resources and prevents excess landfill waste.

The more research that is done on this topic, the clearer the answer becomes. Glass requires more energy to be recycled than plastic. This is true for a number of different reasons.

To understand these reasons, it is first necessary to understand that glass requires more energy to initially produce. The exact amount of energy required, of course, depends on the type of glass product being produced. A number of different factors go into this, including the size of the drive, its thickness, shape, and any number of other possible factors. However, once produced, glass can last considerably longer than some plastics.

Also, glass is not recycled as efficiently as plastic. The Glass Packaging Institute notes that glass recycling uses an average of 66% of the energy needed to make new glass. Plastics show much greater efficiency in the use of energy to recycle, requiring only 10% of the energy needed to produce new plastic.

Given that plastics typically use less energy to produce than glass, and given that plastics also use less energy on average when recycled than glass, the answer to this question seems clear. However, there are other factors to consider when choosing a packaging product.

In some cases, even though glass may require more energy to recycle, it may be the better option. Glass can be more protective than plastic in some cases. Glass can also preserve the taste and character of some foods and drinks better than plastic.

It’s also important to remember that no matter which product you choose, it will take a significant amount of energy to recycle it. There are energy costs associated with collection and transport to a sorting facility. From there, the products can be forwarded to a recycling center where they will actually be processed.

Given that any product can require a significant amount of energy to be recycled, there are other options that can be considered. Some of these may be as good as recycling, if not better. The United States Environmental Protection Agency uses the phrase “reduce, reuse and recycle” to promote good conservation practices. The phrase is easy to remember, but it represents much more than a memorable jingle.

Many do not realize that this is not just a simple saying, but rather a way to prioritize the use of products. Reducing the use of certain products, be they glass, plastic or otherwise, is the best option because if the product has no initial use, there is no reason to produce it. Reuse of a product comes later. This is an attractive option because it requires no energy to recycle. The consumer is simply finding a secondary use for the product or repeating the primary use. Recycling is the third option in the hierarchy.

In addition to reducing the amount of energy needed to recycle, there are other reasons recycling is important. First, recycling uses fewer natural resources because already collected natural resources are reused. Second, recycling prevents landfills from receiving as much trash as they otherwise would.

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