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GLASS WORKS: The Ultimate in Sustainable Packaging

October 1, 2008
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In December 2007, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and Packaging Digest sponsored a survey of 1255 people involved in packaging and found that sustainability is an ongoing concern for those who manufacture and use packaging. But how do they see sustainability?

Over two-thirds of respondents said “their first priority is to make use of recycled materials, followed closely by ensuring that all materials used in the packaging are renewable.” In fact, among criteria used to evaluate sustainable practices, the highest rated was the use of recycled material. Survey respondents also felt that “packaging should be designed to optimize materials and energy consumption.” And nearly one-third showed concern that the “packaging be made from materials that are healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios.”

So how do glass containers stack up against these findings? They more than meet expectations for a sustainable package. Glass is made from all-natural raw materials: sand, soda ash and limestone. Manufacturers use as much recycled glass, or cullet, as they can for the final ingredient. Glass is 100% recyclable and made from recycled and renewable materials. An estimated 80% of recovered glass containers are made into new glass bottles and jars. Even after continual recycling, glass never loses its quality, purity and clarity.

Environmental Benefits

The industry has a long history of using recycled glass in the manufacturing process. Why does this continue to be so important? Using cullet in the glass-making process provides for unmatched production efficiencies and significant environmental benefits, both of which are necessary for a sustainable package.

To start, over a ton of natural resources are conserved for every ton of glass recycled. But the bigger environmental gains are seen in energy. Energy costs drop about 2-3% for every 10% of cullet used in the manufacturing process. And for every six tons of recycled container glass used, a ton of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) is reduced. In addition, because lower temperatures are needed in the furnace when using recycled glass, furnace life is extended. All of this adds up to a closed-loop system that creates no additional waste or by-products.

Finally, when it comes to glass packaging and health, glass is the gold standard. While much is yet to be understood about the effects of other packaging materials on human health, glass has proven to be safe and healthy for consumers and the environment for more than 3000 years. No other packaging material can match this track record. In fact, glass is the only packaging material “generally recognized as safe” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Because glass is chemically inert, it is the consumer’s perfect protection for food and beverages. Glass presents the true flavor of the product, preserves its purity and quality, and increases shelf life.

Consumers Prefer Glass

All of these qualities continue to lead consumers and those who are responsible for selecting product packaging back to glass. A 2006 Newton Marketing & Research survey found that 82% of consumers prefer glass packaging for maintaining the integrity or healthiness of foods and beverages. Considering the ongoing growth of the organic product marketplace (with projected sales of just under $20 billion by 2008, according to the Nutrition Business Journal), the demand for glass is projected to grow.

Glass has proven to be the premier choice for manufacturers seeking to package their “green” products and to meet their own sustainability goals. Indeed, organic consumers rate glass packaging 6-8 points higher than competing packaging materials in environmental safety, true flavor, shelf life, form, purity and quality, according to the Newton survey. The life-cycle of glass-from natural raw materials to manufacturing and through closed-loop recycling-sets the environmental standard for packaging.

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