Study: Glass Bottles Harm the Environment More Than Plastic Bottles
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Glass bottles could have an even bigger impact on the environment than plastic ones, a new study has found.
Researchers at the University of Southampton in England set out to determine which common beverage containers cause the most and least harm to the environment. They found that glass is actually more detrimental than plastic because it is mined from rare materials and requires more fossil fuels to produce and ship.
"It might come as a surprise, but glass bottles actually ranked last in our analysis," study coauthors Alice Brock and Ian Williams wrote in The Conversation. "You might instinctively reach for a glass bottle to avoid buying a plastic alternative, but glass takes more resources and energy to produce."
In a study published in Detritus, Brock and Williams investigated the most and least impactful container options for three beverage types: milk, fruit juice and pressurized fizzy drinks. In order to determine each container's impact, Brock and Williams conducted life cycle assessments and compared the containers based on several indicators of environmental harm, including their contribution to global warming, depletion of resources and impact on human health and terrestrial and marine environments.
For each type of beverage, Brock and Williams were then able to rank the containers from most to least harmful.
- Fizzy Drinks: Glass bottles were the most harmful and 100 percent recycled aluminum cans were the least. In between, from most to least impactful, came recycled glass bottles, plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and non-recycled aluminum cans.
- Fruit Juice: Glass bottles were again the most harmful and Tetra Paks were the least. In between came recycled glass bottles and PET bottles.
- Milk: Glass was the most impactful and cartons were the least. In between were recycled glass bottles and high-density polythene (HDPE) plastic bottles.
While each beverage category had a least impactful option, the researchers noted that even the minimally impactful choices still caused harm. Non-recycled aluminum cans, for example, ranked high for having toxic impacts on marine environments despite being the second-least impactful fizzy drink container type overall.
"All beverage packaging that we assessed showed some form of environmental impacts and both the milk carton and Tetra Pak, despite being less impactful than the plastic bottles, still contain plastic elements," Brock said in a University of Southampton press release emailed to EcoWatch. "Based on the evidence, society needs to move away from single-use beverage packaging in order to reduce environmental harm and embrace the regular everyday use of reusable containers as standard practice."
That said, there is a difference between the most and least impactful options. Glass bottles contributed about 95 percent more to the climate crisis than aluminum cans, the study authors noted in The Conversation. Still, Brock and Williams said the message of their research went beyond individual consumer choice.
"We hope our study will help inform public and commercial debate over the suitability of some types of packaging that we all use in our daily lives and lead to swift and decisive changes in the drinks industry to find more environmentally friendly alternatives as a matter of some urgency," Williams said in the press release.
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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