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Energy is used in every process on earth, from moving an arm to building a skyscraper. The energy for these processes comes from different sources, like from eating food for processes in the human body and burning fossil fuels to power construction. In addition to processes requiring different types of energy, they also require different amounts.

In the packaging industry, three of the most common materials used are tinplate, aluminium, and plastic. Each of these materials requires different amounts of energy to produce and recycle. By recycling the energy cost of using the materials can be reduced.

Tinplate and aluminum require less energy to produce than plastic and require less energy to recycle. Recycling tin and aluminum creates a net savings of nearly 8,200 kWh of energy compared to plastic [1].

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This is important because the energy used to produce, recycle, and use these materials largely comes from nonrenewable, fossil fuel sources, which create waste that is harmful to the environment.

New Call-to-actionOver 80% of all of the energy produced in the world comes from fossil fuel sources. The main forms of fossil fuels are coal, oil, and natural gas. These are mined, refined, and processed in very energy and environmentally damaging processes. They come from under the earth's crust, which requires them to be extracted using oil wells and mining, both of which have high environmental costs. After they are extracted and refined they are distributed worldwide and turned into energy.

The most common way that these are turned into energy is through combustion, burning. When burned they release energy that is captured in a variety of ways.  The main downside to this process is that during combustion fossil fuels release waste gasses into the atmosphere [2,3]. These gases are known as greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and have been shown to have worldwide negative effects on the environment.

The most well known GHG is CO2, but there are a variety of other, more harmful gases produced during the combustion of fossil fuels. The other most common and toxic GHGs produced are methane, nitrous oxide, fluoromethanes, and nitrogen trifluoride. These GHGs act as a reflective layer in earth’s atmosphere [4]. This means that as rays of energy come from the sun and reach earth they are then reflected back towards earth by GHGs instead of escaping into space.

As more energy is trapped close to earth it causes earth's temperature to increase. Additionally, these GHGs stay in the atmosphere for a long time, up to 800 years for nitrogen trifluoride [5]. As we continue to combust GHGs they build up in the atmosphere over time and don’t break down, causing the problem to compound.

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The largest issue with CO2 and other GHGs is that they lead to climate change. Climate change is defined as a change in global or regional weather patterns largely attributed to fossil fuel usage. These changes in weather patterns lead to issues like animal habitat loss, melting ice caps, and increased ocean temperatures. Additionally, they can cause many issues that directly affect humans, like increasing intensity of storms, sea level rise, and increasing water scarcity [6]. Not only do these issues directly affect our current survival, but they also have long term effects. One of the largest predicted issues in our future is food scarcity from climate change. Changing weather, reduced water availability, and hotter temperatures are expected to make agriculture more challenging. Currently our population is increasing at a rate of 80 million people per year, so meeting this increase will already be challenging without climate change [7,8]. The effects of climate change can be seen in many parts of the world and will continue to be a problem until an environmentally conscious change is made. 

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One way to reduce the impacts of climate change is to use less fossil fuel energy. Utilizing metals that can be recycled, like aluminium or tin, is a great way to reduce energy usage in packaging production. When 1 kg of tin or aluminium is recycled there is a net savings of 8,200 kWh of energy compared to plastic, which equals a savings of 2,321 kg of CO2 [9].

This CO2 reduction is substantial and if a large change away from plastic packaging is made it will help lessen the negative environmental effects of climate change.

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Topics: Metal Packaging, Sustainability