Press release 2020-08-31

New study compares single-use plastic bottles with their alternatives

Globally, about one million plastic bottles are sold every minute. In addition to the great environmental impact from production, single-use plastic bottles are one of the most common plastic products littering the world's beaches.

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute has, on behalf of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), compiled existing knowledge on the environmental impact of single-use plastic bottles and their alternatives: glass bottles, aluminum cans, cardboard laminated packaging systems, reusable steel and aluminum bottles, as well as non-container means to provide beverage to users.

An in-depth assessment, so-called meta-analysis, of seven previously published peer-reviewed life cycle analyses, as well as a simpler analysis of additional literature, have been conducted for this study.

The study identifies several critical parameters that affect the environmental impacts of plastic bottles and their alternatives.

– These parameters determine the trade-offs between different environmental problems when comparing different materials. For example, when comparing fossil and bio-based materials, bio-based alternatives seems to have advantages in terms of climate impact and the use of fossil resources, but disadvantages in terms of water use and eutrophication, says Gustav Sandin Albertsson, LCA expert at IVL.

Other critical parameters identified include technological maturity, the impact linked to where production takes place and the production process itself, how packaging is used and how materials are disposed of. The study also shows that litter and toxic effects of microplastics released into the marine environment are rarely taken into account in life cycle analyses of plastic bottles and their alternatives.

– Thus, policies must be based on comprehensive sources of information through the whole product life cycle to avoid the shifting of environmental problems. Policy makers must also take into account that production, use and waste management often differ between different countries and regions, therefore policies need to be adapted to the local context, says Christin Liptow, project manager at IVL.

The study has been reviewed by stakeholders and is now published and available for download here.

The study was carried out with financial support from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

Throughout 2020, UNEP will publish further studies on single-use plastic products and their alternatives, including a study on take-away food packaging, which has also been carried out by IVL Swedish Environmental Institute. In October, a summary report will be published, which will serve as a policy briefing to the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA5).

For more information, please contact:
Christin Liptow, christin.liptow@ivl.se, phone +46 (0)10-788 68 72
Gustav Sandin Albertsson, gustav.sandin@ivl.se, phone +46 (0)10-788 65 45

Press releases