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GLASS WORKS: North American 2011 Glass Packaging Outlook

A smaller environmental footprint and an appeal to the health-conscious consumer were major areas of focus for the North American glass container industry in 2010, and these trends will continue into 2011.

The North American glass container industry made strides in 2010 to improve recycling awareness and increase recycled glass collection for bottle-to-bottle recycling. This has helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and raw materials usage while saving energy and extending the life of glass manufacturing furnaces. The industry has already taken a significant step toward its 50% recycled content by 2013 goal.

In further support of this goal, the industry released its first comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) in late 2010. The assessment enumerates the benefits of boosting the use of cullet in shrinking the industry's environmental footprint. The findings of the LCA will help lay the foundation for the industry's efforts in 2011 and beyond.

Appealing to Green- and Health-Conscious Consumers

Consumers increasingly prefer to purchase products from companies that are environmentally responsible and working to reduce their carbon footprint. Businesses and industries that can "close the loop"-or put as much as possible back into the production cycle by reducing raw material use, energy and emissions-are those that will benefit in the long run.

According the "2009 Conscious Consumer Report" from branding firm BBMG, a national survey of 2000 adults found that 77% of Americans agree that they "can make a positive difference by purchasing products from socially or environmentally responsible companies." In addition, the majority of Americans-nine out of 10-consider themselves "conscious consumers."

The industry's LCA, which was coordinated by the Glass Packaging Institute, only helps to bolster the superior environmental benefits of glass packages. This is the message the glass container industry will persist in pushing out to consumers in 2011.

LCA Findings Bolster Glass' Green Claims

According to the LCA, the use of cullet to make new glass containers results in a decrease in primary energy demand and reduces carbon emissions. This essentially means that recycling glass helps to reduce the industry's carbon footprint. PE Americas, a leading sustainability consulting firm, conducted the LCA by examining each step of the process-from raw material extraction to end use. The closed-looped, cradle-to-grave LCA collected data from 105 furnaces, which represented about 75% of North American glass container production.

While some maintain that the transportation of glass bottles has more of an environmental impact because of the weight of the containers, a key finding of the LCA dismisses this claim. Instead, when studied it in its entirety, the environmental benefits stemming from the recycling of glass containers more than offset any increased impact generated by slightly heavier containers.

The transportation of raw materials and cullet used in glass production represents less than 4-5% of the total energy used in the production of container glass. Despite the fact that each glass container has its own carbon profile, existing recycle rates generally offset the CO2 burden that comes about when shipping foods and beverages across America. The 50% recycled content rate will only serve to further reduce carbon emissions.

Stepping into 2011

Now that the glass container industry has the support of data from the LCA on the clear environmental profile of glass packaging, efforts for 2011 will involve a renewed focus on bolstering glass recycling rates from homes and multi-family dwellings, bars, restaurants, and hotels. Glass manufacturing facilities will continue to improve their carbon footprint, and the industry will bring a fresh effort to taking the glass bottle "green" message to consumers.

If you want to get on board, start by choosing-then recycling-glass bottles. The world will be a little bit greener for it.

Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, it staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.

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