Glass Life Cycle Assessment

A recent cradle-to-cradle study has enabled the first true comparisons of glass with aluminum and plastic.

Owens-Illinois, Inc. (O-I) recently released the results of a comprehensive global study of the complete life cycle of glass containers. O-I's life cycle assessment (LCA), which measures the carbon emissions generated by each phase in the life of a glass container, is foundational to the company's new sustainability program.

Addressing calls from customers, consumer product makers, retailers, and environmental groups for greater clarity in LCA reporting, O-I's study is the first in the packaging sector to follow the complete life of a package-from the extraction of raw materials to the reuse or recycling of the container. The model used for the study also allowed an assessment of cradle-to-cradle life cycle data on aluminum and plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) containers, enabling the first true comparisons between the packaging materials.

"Widespread inconsistencies in carbon footprint assessments have made it nearly impossible to compare the impact of one packaging material with that of another," said Al Stroucken, CEO of O-I. "Many assessments used today only take into account a portion of the full life cycle of a product, resulting in incomplete and inaccurate data. Customers are sometimes unknowingly making packaging decisions based on incomplete data. We knew we needed to take the best and most complete approach possible to bring clarity to the conversation and provide an accurate picture of how glass compares with other packaging materials."

Every 10% of recycled glass used in production cuts carbon emissions by about 5% and reduces energy use by some 3%.

The Results

O-I used manufacturing and publicly available data on the production of aluminum and PET to compare glass with these other packaging materials. O-I's life cycle assessment model was tested and validated by AMR Research, a firm specializing in supply chain and sustainability research.

"Our assessment shows that glass clearly has the most favorable carbon footprint," said Jay Scripter, O-I's vice president of sustainability. "When you look at the complete life cycle of glass, commonly held misconceptions are disproved. Food and beverage makers concerned about sustainability should choose glass."

Additional findings from the O-I life cycle assessment include:
  • Transporting finished glass containers comprises only a small portion (4-5%) of the complete carbon footprint of glass packaging.
  • Using recycled glass directly reduces the amount of energy needed to extract and process raw materials. Every 10% of recycled glass used in production cuts carbon emissions by about 5% and reduces energy use by some 3%.
  • O-I's current use of recycled glass (36% globally) already generates enough energy savings to completely offset the emissions produced by finished goods transportation.

Some bottle weights have been reduced by nearly 30%.

Comprehensive Program

O-I has used this study to establish an aggressive plan to significantly reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions across its worldwide operations during the next decade. With 2007 as a baseline, O-I intends to achieve the following by 2017:
  • Cut its global energy consumption by 50%
  • Reduce carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions by 65%
  • Nearly double its use of recycled glass so that a global average of 60% of each O-I container is recycled material
  • Eliminate workplace accidents
"While our goals are extremely aggressive, we are confident that they are achievable and that they will have a significant and positive impact on the environment," said Stroucken. "Our goal is to be the world's most sustainable glass packaging maker."

O-I already has taken a number of steps to meet these goals, including reducing some bottle weights by nearly 30%, cutting energy use by 8% in the past three years and launching safety education programs throughout the company. Achieving the company's recycling goals may require addressing fundamental challenges in the way recycling systems currently function.

"Recycling systems work well in certain parts of the world," said Scripter. "Europe has the most sophisticated and successful programs, but in the United States and other countries, a significant amount of glass slated for recycling actually ends up in landfills. We want to use that glass to make new glass containers. O-I has an opportunity to be a leader on this issue and make a significant impact."

To ensure the successful implementation of its sustainability initiatives, O-I has appointed a senior-level steering committee, led by Stroucken, and created dedicated action teams to lead the efforts, oversee progress and ensure success. The company intends to issue reports on its progress in achieving these sustainability goals in the future.

For additional details, including a copy of the full LCA, visit


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