Michael Delle Selve, Communications and Operations Manager at FEVE (the European Container Glass Federation), talks to Alessandra Lacaita about the advantages, limits and present status of glass packaging.
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What are the key strengths of the glass packaging?
A great advantage for glass is its enduring popularity among consumers. According to a large scale research project (by the research institute InSites in2010), 74 per cent of European consumers recommend glass as a packaging solution. This is based on its quality as an inert material which preserves the original taste of products, keeping the contents pure for decades, protecting consumers' health and helping the environment.
If consumers are asked which material they would prefer their goods to be packaged in they resolutely opt for glass. This attitude is related to growing concerns about other packaging solutions. Glass packaging is made from natural raw materials and maintains the integrity or healthiness of foods and beverages over time. It is the only packaging material 'generally recognised as safe' by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
There are increasingly strong consumer trends in looking for healthier packaging for healthier and organic food. Glass is directly associated among consumers with a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. This positively affects growth in the container glass industry, and will hopefully contribute to growth over the next decade. Growing demand for pure, eco-friendly, and sustainable packaging also benefits the glass packaging industry. As a container and packaging material for beverages and foodstuffs as well as cosmetic articles, perfumes and medicines, glass offers decisive advantages compared to alternative materials.
In addition to the excellent consumer perception of glass, the unique closed loop system brings major benefits in terms of costs for the industry, allowing for reduced use of energy and raw materials.
What are the current trends with regard to the size of the European market for glass packaging? More generally, how has the market been affected by the economic crisis?
The glass container industry is very stable in terms of production at European and global level. Container glass packaging production volumes in Europe grew by 1.9% in the first half 2012 to an output of 10.9 million tonnes for the six months. The growth, building on the positive trend recorded in 2011, reflects increasing demand within and outside Europe. Central and northern Europe in general saw healthy trends, while Portugal, Poland and Turkey are the countries spearheading the growth.
The economic crisis has hardly affected consumer spending on products packaged in glass. On the contrary, the latest records show that the industry has weathered the crisis well. This is in spite of very high pressure coming above all from increasing energy costs and increasing regulation at EU and national level. Because of its business model based on use of raw materials abundant in nature and not subject to price volatility, as it can be the case of oil, the industry can have a more far-sighted future strategy.
You alluded earlier to sustainability as an advantage of glass in the eyes of consumers. Substantively speaking, how does the environmental footprint of glass compare with other packaging materials?
We must say that there many more pros than cons. First of all, glass is 100 per cent and infinitely recyclable. An estimated 68 per cent of all glass bottles and jars consumed in Europe are collected for recycling. Of this, over 80 per cent were recycled by European glassmakers to make new glass bottles and jars. Thanks to the properties of glass, in a real closed loop system bottles and jars collected in Europe are in practice the basis for a sustainably sound model of circular economy.
The environmental benefits of glass recycling are significant. Each tonne of recycled glass saves 1.2 tonnes of virgin raw materials. Moreover, glass is not down-cycled to produce other kinds of products which - at their end-of-life - go to landfill or are incinerated. The closed loop system is also the simplest recycling system to manage as glass is not mixed with other packaging materials, meaning that sorting operations after collection are much reduced.
Less energy is required to melt recycled glass than to melt raw materials and transform them into glass. Approximately 30 per cent less energy is required to melt cullet in the furnace compared to virgin raw materials. This also reduces the emissions corresponding to the extraction, processing and transport of this energy. The energy and CO2 emissions resulting from the extraction and transport of raw materials are saved (1 kg cullet replacing 1.2 kg virgin raw materials). Of course, cullet also has to be transported but on average the transport distance for cullet is shorter than the transport distance of raw materials, which are already limited. The container glass Life Cycle Assessment published on www.feve.org indicates that by replacing 1.2 kg of raw material by 1 kg of cullet, an overall 0.67 kg of CO2 are saved.
I should also point out that as voluntary bring back collection systems and kerbside collection systems increase recycling rates, the use of virgin raw materials (sand, limestone, soda ash) is reduced accordingly. There is scope to bring about real reductions in the environmental impact of glass production, by increasing the European collection level of recycled glass while improving the quality of collected glass. The key is to have the right infrastructures in place to collect the bottles, to process them and to have very good quality recycled glass for new production.
Finally, while glass need not ever end up in landfill, when it does, fortunately, glass bottles and jars are inert and non-hazardous as a waste material. Moreover, it will not be found polluting oceans as floating debris.
How about the energy consumption of glass across the supply chain?
Of course glass production needs energy to melt the raw materials or recycled glass. However, this energy is not necessarily obtained from fossil fuels such as oil. Furthermore, since glass does not contain scarce resources like oil, it helps prevent exploitation of fossil fuels. Indeed, glass can be made with practically any energy source - fossil fuel use is in fact very recent in the more than 2500 year history of glassmaking. This means, wherever possible, that the part of fossil CO? emissions arising from burning fossil fuels to melt glass could be greatly reduced by switching to renewable or low carbon energy sources.
With regard to energy used in transportation, glass is a truly local industry. Today the weighted average transport distance of raw materials (including recycled glass) to a production facility in the EU is more than 300 km. If more recycled glass is used instead of virgin raw materials this can be even lower because recycled glass is locally collected - the total weighted average transport distance from a cullet facility to a glassmaker is no more that 50 km. The higher the average ratio of recycled glass in the production cycle, the greater the reduction in the average distance. This makes glass not only a sustainable local business but also a local product, with raw materials from nearby resources keeping transport at a minimum.
It is also important to keep in mind that reusing glass bottles dramatically reduces their overall environmental impact, including energy use and CO? emissions, over a bottle's multiple lives. Glass bottles can be reused at least 40 times while maintaining their essential physical and chemical characteristics. The ability to reuse over and over again to such a high degree puts glass into a league of its own for reusable packaging.
How do the physical properties of glass influence its effectiveness as a material for containers?
Glass is inert and impervious to all gases and vapours. It is the safest packaging material on the market in terms of potential migration into food and drinks. Indeed, there has been no record over the thousands of years that human beings have been in contact with glass (flasks, bottles, jars, drinking glasses, windows) of any reported adverse effects. Ingredients such as flavourings and vitamins are also preserved. This brings added value to the product and guarantees a long shelf-life. Glass fully preserves the original taste of food and beverages. With glass, wine tastes like wine! Glass is a stable and safe food contact material in itself and needs no additional layers or additives to preserve the taste of its contents, avoid corrosion, or decrease gas permeability. Wine in glass bottle needs no 'sell by' date. Glass is also the only packaging material in common use, where no plastic material comes between it and the contents.
What are the limitations of glass packaging?
One of the main weaknesses of glass packaging is perceived to be its weight and fragility. The industry is investing highly in research and innovation (right weight solutions, glass hardening and lightening, eco-design). With regard to weight, the industry does not necessarily believe in light weighting at any costs as you need to guarantee that all other benefits are kept intact in terms of product preservation. Weight is also synonymous of value and quality. For example, with champagne bottles there is a limit to how light they can be as they have to be able to guarantee a mechanical resistance to the pressure coming from the product itself. The same for wine or whiskey that may have to be preserved in a bottle for a long time in their original taste and shape. Therefore you need to take in consideration the characteristics of the product and be flexible enough to adapt and fit to them. And glass can offer this guarantee.
The other potential limitation of glass is stackability, where there is need to collaborate strongly with customers and brand owners to find and agree on very innovative design solutions. There is progress in this area made by the industry with some nice solutions.
The objective is clearly to continue to be highly competitive on the market and not only in niche markets: on the contrary. The unique, inherent properties of glass make it possible to focus investments more on improving selected aspects while continuing to guarantee consumers a solution that is sustainably sound and best preserves their products by never putting at risk the unique selling points of the material.
What are FEVE's responsibilities and activities? What will be your organisation's main areas of focus in 2013?
FEVE is the association of European manufacturers of glass containers and machine-made glass tableware. Our members produce over 20 million tonnes of glass per year. The association has some 60 corporate members belonging to approximately 20 independent corporate groups. Manufacturing plants are located across 23 European states and include global blue chip and major companies working for the world's biggest consumer brands. The European container glass industry provides a wide range of glass packaging products for food and beverages as well flacons for perfumery, cosmetics and pharmacy to their European and world customers. With its 160 manufacturing plants distributed all over Europe, it is an important contributor to Europe's real economy and provides direct employment to about 50,000 people, while creating a large number of job opportunities along the total supply chain.
This year main areas of focus will certainly be the ETS legislation, the starting of the review process of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and of many other legislatives dossiers at EU level that affect more or less directly the container glass industry. FEVE is also working to the promotion of glass packaging through a Europe-wide campaign. More than 40,000 consumers are today part of the Friends of Glass community of those consumers who clearly prefer glass as packaging solution for their preferred products.
One activity in which we have been involved is 'Friends of Glass', a Europe-wide forum that champions the right of consumers to be able to choose food and drink products in glass packaging. More than 40,000 consumers share their views on glass on the Friends of Glass social media network covering 12 countries. The last campaign, held at the end of 2012, invited consumers - particularly women - to blindly trust glass packaging when it is matter of healthy and tasty drinking and eating because it keeps the original taste and nutritional qualities. It was centred on a Facebook game inviting people to view 25 multi-language videos of children playing a blind tasting of food or drinks packed in glass and describing what they taste: game players were invited to guess what they tasted. National PR actions supporting the campaign were conceived and held by country teams in several countries. In the UK a live version of the blind tasting was organised during the BBC Good Food Show and it resulted in a big success, with 1720 visitors taking part in blind tastings. It seems that activities such as these have been successful at communicating the benefits of glass. According to the research I cited at the beginning of the interview, more than three quarters of European Consumer recommend glass as packaging solution for their preferred food and drink.