In late July, the American Chemistry Council released one of the most important studies that I can remember related to plastics.
But I'm afraid that the one thing people will remember is that plastics packaging is great for sirloin steak.
The report is called “Plastics and Sustainability: A Valuation of Environmental Benefits, Costs and Opportunities for Continuous Improvement,” and it was prepared by a London-based firm called Trucost.
Trucost is a data-driven organization that specializes in estimating the hidden costs of the unsustainable use of natural resources. The firm did a high-profile study for the United Nations Environment Program in 2014.
The study for ACC uses the same methodology and natural capital accounting metrics as the UN report. This isn't your typical lifecycle analysis that you remember with from the 1990s, where it seemed like the criteria could be adjusted to amplify the benefits of any material and denigrate the competition.
This is respected work, that's worth citing — and repeating.
The study for ACC concluded that the environmental cost of using plastics in consumer goods and packaging is nearly four times less than replacing plastics with alternative materials. More specifically: Trucost estimates that if all the plastic packaging and consumer products could somehow be replaced with “traditional materials” — like glass, tin or aluminum — that would actually increase the environmental costs from $139 billion to $533 billion.
Those costs take into account ocean damage, end-of-life management, transportation, and production and material and energy recovery costs.
The study also gave specific recommendations for the industry to further reduce its overall environmental costs, by as much as $41 billion.
These included saving $7.6 billion by using more wind, solar and hydro-electric power, $7.3 billion from reducing the materials used in the certain food, soft drink and ice packaging by 30 percent, and $10.6 billion by using more fuel-efficient vehicles to transport resin and plastics products.
Where's the beef?