In an article published on May 24, 2015 in Spiegel Online, the digital edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel, journalist Lillian Siewert explains different aspects of beverage packaging made from glass, plastic and aluminum. She focuses on the deposit bottle reuse system in Germany and attempts to determine the most eco- and health-friendly options for beverage packaging. 97% of deposit containers including refillable bottles and single-use bottles are returned to supermarkets in Germany thanks to two different deposit systems. Siewert assessed whether refillable bottles are more eco-friendly than single-use bottles. Refillable bottles save resources and logistics are usually organized regionally in Germany, according to Siewert. Single-use bottles are distributed centrally and have longer transport distances. Also, production and disposal of single-use plastic bottles is more energy intensive than refilling glass bottles, Siewert writes. In general, the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) recommends buying regionally filled deposit bottles made from plastic or glass. In terms of transport, plastic bottles are favorable because their light weight requires less fuel and thus causes fewer emissions, Siewert states. Single-use glass bottles are unfavorable because production and recycling are very energy intensive. Least favorable are aluminum cans because production is energy and resource intensive as there is no efficient recycling, Siewert explains.
Next, Siewert addressed health aspects regarding the reuse of plastic bottles. According to Martin Wagner, toxicologist at the Institute for Ecology at the University of Frankfurt, reusing plastic bottles does not change their chemical properties. However, based on his own studies, water from plastic bottles shows higher concentrations of chemical residues and hormone active substances compared to water from glass bottles. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) considers the residues in water from plastic bottles of no concern for health. Carcinogenic plasticizers or hormone active substances such as bisphenol A (BPA, CAS 80-05-7) are not present in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used to make plastic bottles, according to the BfR. Wagner objects saying that packaging manufacturers often do not know the exact chemical content of the materials used.
In summary, Siewert concluded that regionally filled deposit bottles made from glass or plastic are most eco-friendly. Single-use containers made from glass or aluminum are least favorable. There seem to be fewer health concerns associated with beverages from glass bottles compared to beverages from plastic bottles or aluminum cans.
Lillian Siewert (May 24, 2015). “Glas, Plastik, Dose: Welche Getränkeverpackung die beste ist.” Spiegel Online (in German)