Four ways to increase the sustainability of glass packaging

1 March 2023

A guide has been produced to help companies make their glass packaging more sustainable and circular.

The guide, from British Glass, outlined four key considerations for packaging that are required for the UK to achieve net zero.

Every tonne of glass that gets recycled prevents 580kg of CO2, produced throughout the glass supply chain, from being created. 

The UK already recycles 74.2% of glass packaging, but the guide said more could be done to improve the circularity of the material and make it as sustainable as possible.

It explained: “Glass is one of the most sustainable materials on earth, it is both 100% recyclable and infinitely recyclable without ever reducing its quality. It preserves the taste of products inside and does not leach any chemicals into its contents due to its inert qualities and the absence of any plastic layer. 

“To maximise the sustainability of glass, the UK glass industry seeks to work with manufacturers, retailers and brand owners to meet the challenge with this guide setting out the most environmental options for glass packaging.”

1. Recycled content

Using recycled glass in new packaging can reduce reliance on virgin raw materials – one tonne of recycled glass saves 1.2 tonnes of raw materials. Recycling glass reduces carbon emissions throughout the supply chain, as well as reducing energy usage. For every tonne of recycled glass used, 322 kWh are saved. It takes three quarters as much energy to melt recycled glass as it does to produce new glass. 

However, brands will still have to confront issues related to design requirements, defects from contamination, availability and quality of recycled glass, and product standard requirements. 

2. Recyclability

Retaining used glass will be vital for net zero goals, as glass can be remelted indefinitely without loss of quality. Glass packagers should therefore prioritise recyclability when designing their packaging, ensuring the sector can develop a more circular economy.

Plastic labels and strong adhesives are difficult to remove and cause complications in the recycling process. Direct glass printing can also cause issues during reprocessing, and will likely be rejected from remelt facilities. Decorative spray coatings can also cause glass to be incorrectly sorted, so opaque and dark coatings should be avoided. 

3. Rightweighting

Reducing the weight of glass packaging can reduce costs in the manufacturing process and throughout the supply chain, as well as creating corresponding sustainability benefits. However, brands should ensure they do not simply aim for the packaging to be as light as possible – packaging must still be fit for purpose. 

4. Refill and reuse

Glass reusability is a significant benefit to its usage, and even without remelting, the original packaging can be reused in other ways. Brands can incentivise customers to return glass packaging in order for it to be reused directly, cutting down on manufacturing emissions and costs. However, brands should be aware of difficulties related to reuse, including:

  • Units must be heavier, to survive repeated usage;

  • Transporting packaging back to be reused will incur transport costs and a carbon footprint;

  • Cleaning packaging will impact water usage;

  • Developing the infrastructure to collect, transport and refill glass containers will take time and money.

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