Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Aluminum Foil vs. Plastic Wrap in an Eco-Friendly Heavyweight Showdown: And the Winner is…

Ladies and gentlemen….Let’s get ready to rrRRRrrumble!

Let’s meet our competitors in this heavyweight match featuring two cagey titans of the food storage universe.  Now entering the ring, sporting the shiny metallic trunks and hailing from the boron group of chemical elements, the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust… Aluminum Foil!   

And in the other corner, the young flexible challenger, wearing the rather daring and risque see-through trunks and  hailing from the world renowned polyethylene family… Plastic Cling Wrap!

Which competitor wins the title as the most eco-friendly choice for storing leftovers? According to The Washington Post, in today’s Green Lantern column from Slate, plastic cling wrap wins in a knock-out! Here’s the blow-by-blow, according to the column:

  • “It takes a whole lot of energy to mine bauxite ore from the Earth and then process it: Producing a ton of aluminum ingots requires 170 Btus of energy and spits out about 12 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.”
  • “By comparison, producing a ton of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) pellets requires just 17 percent as much energy and generates 12 percent as much greenhouse gas.”

The author of the column then turned to a software tool called Compass (which I will not pass judgement on here) to “compare the environmental impacts of different packaging materials, from manufacture to disposal.”

The results? Once again “aluminum foil was the loser in nearly all metrics… including fossil fuel consumption, green house gas emissions, human health impacts, aquatic toxicity and potential for eutrophication.” 

The column goes on to say that, according to the software, aluminum foil can “narrow those gaps” (but not close them completely) if consumers reuse pieces of foil (three to six times!) or buy more expensive foil made with 100 percent recycled content.

As sportscaster Howard Cosell might have called the end of this bout:  “Down goes foil! Down goes foil!

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