• charliehornsbury



With spring bursting out, it’s hard not to spend every waking (and maybe non-waking) minute outside. For many of us, nicer weather means a whole lot of hikes, cookouts, and outdoor fun. You’ve got a handle on green camping hacks and eco-friendly picnic essentials— now, let’s zoom in on beverage containers.

Beverages are essential when it comes to social gatherings — whether the weather is fair or foul. When picking them out at the store, you have a few options: plastic bottles, glass bottles, or aluminum cans. What to choose? The decision can be daunting for environmentalists. We’re here to give you the lowdown on which of these receptacles gets the planet’s stamp of approval. We see beverage containers constantly — lining the shelves of the grocery store, filling coolers at BBQs, quenching a beachgoer’s thirst. Just how did they get there?


Plastic manufacturing starts off with oil and natural gas. These raw materials are converted into smaller pieces called monomers and are then chemically bonded together to create long chains, known as polymers. These polymers are the plastic you see in the form of water bottles, food packaging, and much more.

To get to the crude oil and natural gas needed to produce plastics, we must head for the Earth’s crust. However, oil and natural gas are buried beneath layers of bedrock — that’s where drilling comes in. Drilling for oil in our pristine oceans and fracking for natural gas in America’s West is destroying our environment— and endangering our health.


Liquefied sand, soda ash (naturally occurring sodium carbonate), limestone, recycled glass, and various additives make up the glass bottles that hold our beverages.

Limestone helps prevent glass from weathering and it’s a valuable raw material for glass containers. The sedimentary rock is typically mined from a quarry — either above or below ground. In terms of the environment, limestone mining may contaminate water and contribute to noise pollution. Limestone mining can also destroy habitat for animals who live in limestone caves, and can form a permanent scar on the landscape.

It’s safe to say that the raw materials that go into making glass bottles are widely available in the U.S.


The environmental cost of transporting plastic bottles can exceed even those of creating the plastic bottle in the first place. This isn’t always the case — it depends on the distance of transport — but it’s a vexing idea.

For short distances, plastic bottles have a low transportation footprint. They pack tightly — companies are definitely responding to greener consumers and are keeping sustainability in mind when designing the shapes of their bottles. They’re also very lightweight, so shipping them consumes less fuel.


There’s one big, undeniable, eco-unfriendly aspect of glass bottles — they’re heavy. The transportation of glass bottles requires significantly more energy than their lightweight counterparts. Glass is fragile, too, so shippers can’t pack glass containers into a truck as tightly as aluminum and plastic containers.


The recycling rate of plastics is actually quite low — in 2014, only 9.5 percentof plastic material generated in the U.S. was recycled. The rest was combusted for energy or sent to a landfill where its fate is uncertain — it can either find its way out and pollute our planet or sit in the landfill for up to 500 years before finally decomposing.


Glass bottles are 100 percent recyclable and an estimated 80 percent of recovered glass containers are made into new glass bottles. Once you toss your glass bottle in the recycling bin, manufacturers can have it back on the shelves in a month. Plus, using recycled glass when making new glass bottles reduces the manufacturer’s carbon footprint — furnaces may run at lower temperatures when recycled glass is used because it is already melted down to the right consistency.

And the Winner Is…

Glass, although their weight is its downful, glass is 100% recyclable. Whats more, we re-use all our glass bottles, time and time again. Even the sticker on the bottles are recyclable.

Editor’s note:Originally published on August 11, 2017, this article was updated in March 2019.

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