Study: Plastic Packaging Enables Significant Energy and Greenhouse Gas Savings in U.S., Canada

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - Mar 3, 2014) -  A new study has determined that six major categories of plastic packaging help to significantly reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to packaging alternatives made with other materials. The study, "Impact of Plastics Packaging on Life Cycle Energy Consumption & Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States and Canada," provides a transparent, detailed life cycle assessment that quantifies the energy and climate benefits of using various types of everyday plastic packaging compared to alternatives.

Prepared by Franklin Associates for the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, the study assessed the energy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions of six general categories of plastic packaging produced and sold in the United States and Canada. These include caps and closures, beverage containers, other rigid containers, carrier (or shopping) bags, stretch/shrink wrap, and other flexible packaging.

"We all know that plastic packaging plays a critical role in protecting and preserving everything from groceries to high-end electronics. This study demonstrates that plastic packaging also makes a significant contribution to sustainability by dramatically reducing energy use and lowering greenhouse gas emissions," said Steve Russell, vice president of ACC's Plastics Division.

Study authors used life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology to compare current amounts of various plastic packaging products to packaging made with alternative materials. The findings were striking. 

The assessment found that for the baseline year 2010, replacing all plastic packaging with non-plastic alternatives for these six types of packaging in the United States would:

  • require 4.5 times as much packaging material by weight, increasing the amount of packaging used in the U.S. by nearly 55 million tons (110 billion pounds);

  • increase energy use by 80 percent -- equivalent to the energy from 91 oil supertankers; and

  • result in 130 percent more global warming potential -- equivalent to adding 15.7 million more cars to our roads.

Similar calculations are available for the Canadian market.

"The 'Four Rs' -- reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover -- are so important for understanding, measuring and improving sustainability," continued Russell. "This study shows the enormous benefits that reducing or optimizing a package design at the beginning of the process can have throughout its entire life cycle."

"In addition, America's plastics makers are working to enhance plastics' environmental performance after use by increasing recycling and recovery while supporting efforts to prevent litter," Russell said.

The comprehensive study contains more than 50 tables and 16 charts and illustrations, and it examines each of the major life cycle stages for packaging: raw material production, packaging fabrication, distribution transport, postconsumer disposal, and recycling.

The full report is available here. Related graphics are also available:

Infographic: How Plastics Can Help Enhance a Package's Environmental Performance

Data Charts: Common Plastics Packaging Helps Reduce Package Weight, Energy Use and GHG Emissions in U.S.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health and safety performance through Responsible Care®, common sense advocacy designed to address major public policy issues, and health and environmental research and product testing. The business of chemistry is a $770 billion enterprise and a key element of the nation's economy. It is one of the nation's largest exporters, accounting for twelve percent of all U.S. exports. Chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development. Safety and security have always been primary concerns of ACC members, and they have intensified their efforts, working closely with government agencies to improve security and to defend against any threat to the nation's critical infrastructure.

Contact Information:

Allyson Wilson
(202) 249-6623