The study conducted by the University of Southampton found that there are less environmentally impactful alternatives to glass and plastic bottles


Though the study demonstrated that glass and recycled glass bottles are more impactful, it determined that all bottling types have environmental impacts across a broad spectrum of categories (Credit: Pixabay)

Glass bottles are likely to be more environmentally impactful containers for pre-packaged drinks than plastic bottles, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by environmental experts at the University of Southampton, has also discovered that Tetra Pak-style fruit juice cartons, current milk cartons and 100% aluminium cans are amongst the most environmentally-friendly.

Alongside this, the life-cycle assessment of drinks containers – conducted by postgraduate researcher Alice Brock and applied environmental science professor Ian Williams – found suitable alternatives to plastic bottles for pre-packaged drinks.

Brock said: “All beverage packaging that we assessed showed some form of environmental impact and both the milk carton and Tetra Pak, despite being less impactful than the plastic bottles still contain plastic elements.

“Based on the evidence, society needs to move away from single-use beverage packaging in order to reduce environmental harm and embrace the regular everyday use of reusable containers as standard practice.

“There should be a move towards reusable beverage packaging to reduce environmental impacts and encourage more sustainable lifestyles

“Changes in infrastructure and potential incentives to use reusable packaging should be implemented and policies such as the proposed coffee cup tax should be adapted for single-use beverage packaging.”


Less environmentally impactful alternatives to glass and plastic bottles, says study

Because different beverages have different packaging needs, a range of container types were studied including glass bottles, aluminium cans, milk cartons – including the Tetra Pak – as well as PET and HDPE bottles.

The results demonstrate that in each category there’s a more environmentally-friendly packaging alternative to plastic bottles, while glass bottles were found to be considerably more environmentally impactful than plastic bottles.

PET plastic bottles proved to be more environmentally-impactful than HDPE plastic bottles for pressurised drinks, with 100% aluminium cans coming through as the least impactful option.

For fruit drinks, Tetra Pak-style cartons were the least impactful option and current milk cartons were found to be the least impactful for milk.

Even though the study demonstrated that glass and recycled glass bottles are more impactful on the environment than all other containers, it determined that all of them have environmental impacts across a broad spectrum of categories, from their global warming potential to their potential to deplete fossil fuels.

Professor Williams said: “Global plastic production has increased annually since the Second World War and is currently at least 380 million tonnes.

“Plastic drinks packaging is ubiquitous with over 13 billion plastic bottles used per year in the UK alone with global concern about pollution from plastics in the seas and the environmental costs of plastics manufacture is rising.

“We hope our study will help inform the public and commercial debate over the suitability of some times of packaging that we all use in our daily lives, and lead to swift and decisive changes in the drinks industry to find more environmentally-friendly alternatives as a matter of some urgency.”