It’s no secret that plastic is in the global bad books at the moment, thanks to admissions like Coca Cola’s last year, that they produced over 3m tonnes of plastic packaging in 2017. That works out at 200,000 bottles a minute.
Pressure has been building on companies to declare exactly how much plastic waste they’re producing. With figures like Coca Cola’s, it’s no surprise that those in the packaging space are looking at more environmentally friendly solutions to packaging their products.
Those are numerous in number, but one that has been gaining some of the biggest momentum isn’t a space age new bioplastic or super innovative thermal technology. It’s a material we’ve been using for years: glass.
Glass is natural, safe (the only food contact material ‘Generally Recognised as Safe’ by the FDA), super-recyclable (it can go from recycling bin to shelf in 30 days) and therefore environmentally friendly.
It’s the natural antithesis of the much maligned and unnatural plastic packaging. Using glass is also conducive to the ‘milkman model’. That’s a more environmentally responsible way to consume packaging, in which packaging is reused instead of being disposed of. The idea being, you own the product inside (i.e. the milk) and the company owns the bottle – so it’s their responsibility to look after and refill that bottle. And what are those bottles made of?
For the most part, glass. Although companies like US-based Loop are also experimenting with other reusable solutions, including stainless steel ice cream tubs.
The main motivator for glass’s resurgence in is environmental. As it’s become evident that the issues of climate change and sustainability need to be confronted by everyone – not just the treehouse-dwelling eco warrior – alternatives to plastic, particularly single use plastic, have been sought.
That desire from this big-spending and hard-to-reach age group also translates to company bottom line. When taking part in a Unilever survey conducted in 2017, one in five people said that they would be more inclined to buy a product if a company made their sustainability credentials clearer on marketing materials. As consumer attitudes swing toward more environmentally sustainable solutions, this represents a huge opportunity for companies to shine a light on their environmentally conscious credentials, boosting profitability along the way.
As covered earlier, Coca Cola have been condemned for the plastic waste they produce, but interestingly they’re a business that have one of the biggest affiliations with glass bottle. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven that Coke in a glass bottle is better as there’s no chemical contact that could alter the flavour, unlike in plastic bottles.
With that information alone, it’s no surprise that the food and beverage industries have long been advocates of glass and big names in that industry like Owens-Illinois, Ardagh Group and Verallia are continuing to create excellent products in this field.
That’s just the tip of the ice/glassberg. It’s also widely used material in pharma packaging, with companies like Schott, Gerresheimer and Stevanato Group . The material’s aesthetic qualities also make it a great fit for more high end cosmetic and beauty applications. Companies like Verescense specialise in making the beautiful receptacles you may see in your bathroom.
As with any industry, there’s no guarantee that the re emergence as a packaging material of choice is going to last forever. However, the signs are positive. Lots of large corporations are trying to make big changes fast.
UK supermarket ASDA, for example, recently announced that they’d removed over 6500 tons of plastic from own brand packaging in the last 12 months. That’s not to say it will be replaced by glass – it won’t – but some will, particularly at premium price points.
As a society we’re undergoing a fundamental change in the way we consume. We’ve realised that quick fix, single use products aren’t sustainable and are now scrambling to use ecologically friendly solutions which can be reused, recycled and re purposed. For companies in the packaging industry this represents an interesting challenge and demands a significant mentality shift.
Suddenly speed, volume and price aren’t the critical things for consumers and packaging manufacturers to consider. And the companies that can adapt fastest to a more environmentally conscious audience will reap the rewards. Glass is like to be a big part of that process for many of them.