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Plastic bottles have become a popular packing option for many soft drinks manufacturers, including soda drinks (Hill, 2010). The increased environmental awareness among many consumers has resulted to an increase in concern for plastic bottles’ product life cycles.
Curran (2012) asserts that the product life cycle for a plastic bottle commences with the manufacture of the plastic material, which will be used to make the bottle. Plastics are mainly manufactured from petroleum. Therefore, the environmental impacts of petroleum extraction, such as oil spills, are also associated with the manufacture of plastics (O’Neil, 2002).
In addition to social spills, there has been a lot of human conflict in most of the regions associated with oil extraction, such as Nigeria and the Middle East. Hence, plastic manufacturing in a way, contributes to these conflicts (O’Neil, 2002). However, the increased use of bioplastics, which are manufactured from plant materials, has managed to limit the negative impacts that plastic manufacturing has had on the environment.
Coles and Kirwan (2011) explain that this is because the manufacture of bioplastics does not involve the use of crude oil, and thus environmental degradation associated with crude oil extraction and refining, does not come to play.
On a positive note however, plastic bottles can easily be recycled and reused many times. (Hill, 2010) points out that the data on plastic bottle usage indicates that the annual amount of plastic bottles recycled each year is approximately 2.5 billion pounds.
This represents almost a third of the total number of plastic bottles used. In addition to that, the number of businesses involved in the recycling of plastic bottles in the US is more than 1500. Despite their high recycling rate, plastic bottles have an extremely low decaying rate, resulting to a negative environmental impact.
The second option that can be used for packing soda drink is glass bottles. Ravindra and Limbachiya (2001) point out that glass bottles packaging accounts for more that 25 percent of all the packaging materials used in the country.
A survey conducted by EcoFocus indicate that 37 percent of Americans are concerned about the health risk that might be posed by plastic bottle use and perhaps this is why more people are now opting for glass bottles.
The product life cycle for a glass bottle, just like its plastic counterpart, commences with the manufacture of the glass material itself. Ravindra and Limbachiya (2001) assert that glass can be made from a variety of raw materials including sand, limestone, soda ash, and cullet.
As much as the extraction of these raw materials has some negative environmental impact, its impact cannot be compared to that of oil extraction. In order to make the glass itself, Ravindra and Limbachiya (2001) explain that the raw materials are usually subjected to extremely high temperatures in a furnace setting, where they are melted to attain plastic like qualities.
This molten raw material is then easily shaped into desirable shapes, before being allowed to dry. The melting process consumes a lot of energy and this impact negatively on the environment.
Glass is however very easy to recycle and most of the glass bottles used are usually recycled. Crawford (2011) asserts that the entire product life cycle involved in glass manufacturing has the lowest carbon footprint and, therefore, it might be the best choice for soda packaging.
The third and final option is aluminum cans. These cans are usually made from aluminum metal. Therefore, an integral part of the aluminum can product life cycle is the extraction of aluminum ores. The raw material used in the extraction of aluminum metal is bauxite, which Green (2007) explains is usually a combination of aluminum element itself and other compounds.
Extraction, therefore, separates the pure aluminum from other elements that are contained in the bauxite. Starting with the raw material extraction, the extraction of bauxite usually involves several mining techniques, which employ the use of explosives to extract the bauxite from the ground. This process usually results in immense environmental degradation in terms of noise and destruction of the earth’s crust.
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Aluminum extraction normally involves subjecting the bauxite to extremely high temperatures, much higher than those for glass extraction, in a process referred to as electrolysis (Green, 2007). This process consumes a lot of energy and, thus, impacts negatively on the environment.
According to Green (2007) more that 30 percent of all aluminum used in the country is obtained through recycling of scrap metal. Green (2007) explains that recycling aluminum is more efficient than manufacturing the metal from scratch since the energy used in recycling represents only 5 percent of the energy used in manufacturing.
Coles, R. & Kirwan, M.J. (2011). Food and Beverage Packaging Technology. Boston: John Wiley & Sons.
Crawford, R. (2011). Life Cycle Assessment in the Built Environment. London: Taylor & Francis.
Curran, M.A. (2012). Life Cycle Assessment Handbook: A Guide for Environmentally Sustainable Products. Boston: John Wiley & Sons.
Green, J.A. (2007). Aluminum Recycling and Processing for Energy Conservation and Sustainability. Michigan: ASM International.
Hill, M.K. (2010). Understanding Environmental Pollution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
O’Neil, T.J. (2002). Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Impact of Polymeric Products. New York: iSmithers.
Ravindra, K. D. & Limbachiya, C. (2001). Recycling and Reuse of Glass Cullet. San Diego: Thomas Telford.