I use tupperwares every day to store food. I like to bake multiple loafs of bread or several servings of pasta. Then freezing individual servings in several tupperwares to eat later on in the week. The containers are durable enough to be microwaved and cleaned in a dishwasher. These properties allow me to reuse the containers for months. But eventually they ware down or break and get thrown away. What happens then? What happened before I started using the tupperware?
When I think of a tupperware, I think of a see through plastics container with a snap on lid. But the tupperware didn’t begin it’s life as a container, it started as fossil fuels deep in the Earth. Once this oil is transported to a refinery, it is heated up and boiled. One of the many gases produced is propylene. The gas is distilled and then introduced to a catalyst where a plastic powder is made that is converted into pellets. A lot of energy and water is required to distill the gases. Water is converted to steam during the condensation part of distillation. Energy is used to boil the crude oil. Polypropylene is a relatively benign plastic with a clean manufacturing process. But the refining of crude oil releases toxic gases that can cause cancer and other health defects. Refineries are often located in poor areas which are usually populated by minority groups.
The plastic pellets are then shipped to a manufacturing plant. This is done often done by boat, train, or air. If these pellets were to be released during shipping they can cause damage to the environment and the communities that depend on it. The plastic is then injection molded into its desired shape and waiting distribution. Different Brands of tupperwares have different methods of distributing. The brand, “Tupperware”, uses direct selling where products are bought from their online store/catalog and shipped directly to the consumer. This method can use less energy during transportation.
When the tupperware is in my hands the product usually lasts many months, sometimes years. The plastic is very durable, easy to clean, and stores food very well. The way I clean them is a dish washer, which needs lots of water and electricity to run. However, while durable, they will not last forever. And when they are no longer useful, I throw them away. This means they are destined to an incinerator or a landfill. Either way, the tupperwares will have environmental impacts. During combustion, CO2 will be releases and, depending on the additives or plastic, toxic gases too. CO2 is a greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming and the toxic gases can cause cancer if inhaled. In a landfill, polypropylene is prone to oxidation and easily damaged by UV light. If it were to escape the landfill, the plastic can easily breakdown and release microplastics into the environment.