26.05.2021 -

What is the carbon footprint of plastic?

Before answering this question regarding plastic, we need to define “a carbon footprint”.


What is a carbon footprint?

According to Wikipedia, a carbon footprint is ”the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, place or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent. Greenhouse gases, including the carbon-containing gases carbon dioxide and methane, can be emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, land clearance and the production and consumption of food, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services. “

Tomi Nyman, Chief Commercial Officer of Woodly offers a more practical definition: The carbon footprint of a product or an activity is a measure of its impact on the carbon balance. The production of products always causes greenhouse gas emissions and these emissions constitute the carbon footprint of a product.”


What is the carbon footprint of plastic?

Tomi continues by explaining that “Typical fossil plastics have a global warming potential of between 1.7 and 3.5 kg of CO2, depending on the type of plastic. This means that for every kilogram of fossil-based plastic produced, there is between 1.7 and 3.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide released.”


But, does that mean we should stop using plastic?

The problem is, if we stop using plastic, for example in packaging, then what do we use instead? According to Tomi, “in the case of food products, if you don’t pack food in packaging, it goes bad, usually quite quickly. It dries out, absorbs moisture, goes moldy etc.  You can pack the food in paper, which is good for some food types, but paper has quite low barrier properties, doesn’t protect the food from moisture and the food easily dries out. With plastic packaging you can seal the food completely, create an aseptic seal for the product and preserve the food for weeks or even months.” This means that using plastic packaging rather than paper can significantly reduce food waste which in turn has a positive impact on the environment and on climate change. What about glass as an alternative packaging material? Tomi continues “the challenge with glass is that its manufacture from sand causes massive emissions. In addition, the sorting of recycled glass is problematic resulting, on average in glass only being recycled one or two times. Finally, glass is heavy, much heavier than plastic, so transportation of the food packed in glass rather than plastic increases emissions substantially too.”


So, if plastic is here to stay, what can we do?

Cellulose based Woodly® plastic, actually has a negative global warming potential of -0.08kg. Through the gradual integration of Woodly® product into the plastics circular economy, we can continue to reap the benefits of plastic as a versatile packaging material without the native impacts on our climate and the planet.

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