A new study by the Earth Engineering Centre at the City College of New York has found that plastic may be more sustainable than paper. The research is contrary to other scientific studies that have been doing the rounds on mainstream media for the past few years regarding plastic waste and recycling.

Let’s look at why this new claim was made and why plastic may be better for the environment?

The Centre also looked at scenarios where other types of packaging were used in place of plastic packaging to understand plastics’ potential impact. On average, products made with alternatives require 3.2 times more material than plastics. For packaging, specifically, the combined weight of alternative materials is about 4.5 times more than the weight of plastic packaging.

A fact sheet provided by the American Chemical Council notes that 2,000 plastic retail bags weigh 30 pounds, while 2,000 paper grocery bags weigh 280 pounds. For every seven trucks to deliver paper bags, only one truck is needed for the same amount of plastic bags. Additionally, it takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. Plastic bags generate 80% less waste than paper bags.

Marco J. Castaldi, director of the EEC at CCNY, said: “We extensively studied the potential for energy recovery and had quantified the impact there. We were surprised to learn in this study just how much of an impact plastics had on solid waste weight and volume reduction over the years.”

Keith Christman, managing director of Plastics Markets at ACC, said: “Plastics have an important role to play in delivering sustainable outcomes. By using less material, plastics help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation, as well as save energy. And our industry is working further to realise plastics’ sustainability benefits through our commitment to recycle or recover all plastic packaging by 2040.”

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