Is glass a sustainable material?

Glass is a permanent material which is infinitely recyclable, as well as reusable and refillable – reducing waste and saving natural resources.

What’s more, it’s an environmentally friendly material and a true champion of the European circular economy, supporting local employment and boosting regional economies. All of this makes glass a sustainable option for storing food, beverages, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products, and for creating lasting economic and social value.

 

Why is the environmental impact of packaging important? 

Sustainability is at centre stage, politically and socially, prompting businesses to assess how they operate. Environmental awareness has increased in recent years as companies and consumers become more aware of the impact of their decisions on the planet, and policy makers are making decisions and setting out policy frameworks to support this. Across Europe, there is  an ambition to increase packaging recycling rates,  reduce litter and find circular economy solutions.

Glass packaging plays an important role in this. Although packaging is necessary to ensure the safety and stability of most products, much of it is designed to be disposable and non-recyclable. However, many consumers and businesses are already turning to more sustainable options to reduce waste and lower their environmental footprint.

And glass, as a 100% recyclable and reusable material, can be a reliable ally on this journey. The glass industry has the privilege to work with a material that has uniquely inherent sustainability benefits and is a fully fit-for-purpose packaging solution.

trees and nature

 

Why is glass a sustainable material?

Glass is made of sustainably sourced materials

Glass is made from raw materials found in nature, such as sand, soda ash and limestone, as well as recycled glass (known as cullet). These raw materials are locally and sustainably sourced, respecting the planet’s ecosystems and complying with strict specifications.

Glass is endlessly recyclable

Glass is one of the only packaging materials that can be infinitely recyclable in a closed bottle-to-bottle loop. Once produced, a glass bottle becomes the primary resource needed to produce new bottles – saving resources, energy and lowering carbon emissions.

For decades, glass has been successfully collected for recycling via kerbside and bottle bank collection across the EU under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes. Today, 8 in 10 glass bottles in the EU are collected for recycling, and projects such as the Close the Glass Loop aim to increase this rate to 90%.

Glass is a reusable, returnable and refillable material

In addition to being a recyclable material, glass can also be reused without losing quality. Bottles can be used up to 50 times before being recycled and re-melted into new refillable containers at the end of their lives – closing the loop on a complete circular economy.

Returnable and refillable bottles can also be a sustainable option for local artisanal production, with the lowest footprint of any beverage packaging in local markets (AB InBev ESG Report 2020).

A person recycling glass

 

Recycling glass saves natural resources, energy and reduces carbon emission

Choosing and recycling glass contributes to a healthy and more sustainable planet. Among its various benefits, recycling saves natural resources, energy and significantly reduces carbon emissions.

That’s why FEVE is collaborating across and beyond the industry to advance the recycling of glass and increase the amount of cullet that goes into production. Industry initiatives such as Friends of Glass, Glass Hallmark and Close the Glass Loop are just a few examples of this ambition.

Recycling glass saves natural resources

When properly collected, glass containers become the main material needed to produce new bottles. This means that the more cullet used in manufacturing, the fewer raw materials are needed. In fact, glass recycling helps save over 12 million tonnes of raw materials each year.

Recycling glass saves energy

One of the many sustainable benefits of recycling is the energy saved during the manufacturing process. The more recycled glass is used, the less energy is required in the production of new containers, as cullet melts at a much lower temperature than the raw materials. For example, recycling one glass bottle can save enough energy to power a computer for 25 minutes.

Recycling glass reduces CO2

Recycling glass also contributes significantly to lowering carbon emissions. Each tonne of recycled content can save up to 670 kg of CO2 in the European Union, with savings increasing by 5% for every 10% of glass recycled.

 

 

Glass packaging contributes to the circular economy

Glass contributes to building a strong circular economy. Because it’s recycled and produced locally by manufacturing plants rooted in local communities, the manufacturing of glass provides around 125,000 job opportunities throughout Europe.

Today the European Glass Container industry counts 162 manufacturing plants in more than 20 countries, making it one of the largest production centres in the world. Moreover, the sector contributes over €1bn to public finances each year.

Glass packaging supports UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Commitments such as the European Union’s Green Deal and the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda have put environmental sustainability at the top of the global agenda. And progressing toward the Sustainable Development Goals isn’t merely an option, but a business and social imperative.

Sustainability is a major driver for our members: our industry spends €600 million per year on energy efficiency, decarbonisation and plant upgrades – adding up to more than 10% of our production costs. The European Glass Container industry is also committed to enabling the transition to a more resource-efficient and low-carbon economy by bringing the industry together under the “Furnaces for the Future” vision: a joint collaboration underpinning our shared commitment to reducing direct furnace CO2 emissions and meeting decarbonisation targets.

By doing so, the industry will ensure that our actions and business goals are even more in line with global commitments – and ensure that we can continue to produce glass packaging that is fully circular, climate friendly and healthy for people and the planet.