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That Glass Versus Plastics Debate Again

Lockdown fatigue is setting in. So this week’s blog is about something that has been around long before the pandemic of 2020 and will continue to bother us after.  Photos of clear skies and starry nights, posts about incredible and varied birdsong, wild animals venturing into urban spaces, all these serve to remind us that when humans stop doing what they do, the planet quickly begins to restore itself. Innumerable stories tell us that pollution went down when humans halted their busy urban lives for just two months. As soon as we can return to a normalised life we’ll be back on track with our polluting agenda, however. So while we’re waiting to exhale, perhaps its a good time to think about how we can consume in more environmentally-responsible ways. 

There has long been debates between glass and plastic when it comes to skincare and cosmetics packaging. We need something safe, leak-proof, non-toxic and easy and convenient to use for the product. And while its easy to say that plastic is bad and glass is better for the environment, there are a number of factors we need to consider to help us make choices. 

What's to know about Plastics

Plastics are synthetic and most commonly derived from petrochemicals. This means their raw materials are not renewable and need drilling for oil. However plastic products are light and easy to transport. They pack tightly and are durable. They can be recycled but will always degrade in quality in each iteration. Called ‘downcycling’ this means a bottle cannot go into making a bottle again. It might end up as carpet or synthetic clothing in the next round.We also now are beginning to realise that BPA or Bisphenol A. which is an essential component of food-grade plastics and container, might be seeping into our food and causing untold havoc with our natural hormonal systems. Not all plastics contain BPA, but if not recycled, plastics cause the biggest environmental problems, releasing microplastics into our water and ground that permeate everything we consume. 

And Glass?...

The primary component for glass manufacturing is sand. There are many types of glass and chemicals that can be added for colour, durability, heat-resistance or other desirable properties. And while this meant all this time that glass was cheap and easy to manufacture, sand isn’t a renewable resource either and an important component of construction. The world consumes over 40 billion tonnes a year and we’re slowly running out of sand. Imagine Goa without sand!

Glass is non-toxic and easy to reuse as well. Its a 100% recyclable which means that material from a glass bottle can make a glass bottle again. But glass requires a robust recycling system to be effective. In a landfill, it won’t degrade for millions of years, while plastics might get there in a thousand. The real drawback of glass lie in its weight and fragility. Its more expensive to transport because it can’t be packed tightly and its heavy. 

A recent 2015 study showed that products packaged in glass are perceived as being of a higher quality, whether they are or not. When we look at product shelves for skincare and cosmetics in stores, its easy to see which are the eco-friendly or organic brands: they’re most often packaged in glass. The large multinational brands are almost always in bright shiny plastics. This helps in our perception that glass is always better. 

But in the end, what it boils down to, is what we do with the empty container once we’re done, whether its made of glass or plastic. The most important eco-friendly action we can take is make sure our old containers go to recycling. This extends the life of the raw material that went into making them in the first place. And if you’re a regular patron of a brand its always worth checking if they take back their empties. So your skincare is not just good for your skin but for others as well!

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