Glass is the greenest packaging material according to a report by Chloé Hecketsweiler which was published in the French magazine L’Expansion late in 2011. Using five criteria (raw material cost, carbon footprint, recycling rates, impact on health and cost to consumers) Hecketsweiler sought to quantify which packaging material was the greenest using data relating the French market. Over all five criteria, glass packaging scores 17/25, well ahead of plastics at 13/25.
Glass Ahead in Recycling
On average, every French person adds 86 kilograms of household packaging to the waste stream each year. When comparing plastic and glass, Hecketsweiler notes that 75% of glass packaging containers are recycled in France, but that just 20% of plastic containers find their way to recycling centres. Hecketsweiler believes consumers find it easy to recycle glass as it simply needs to be sorted into clear and coloured glass. By comparison, there are many different types of plastic and it is impossible to treat each type in the same way.
Glass Reduces Emissions
Hecketsweiler notes that less energy is used and less CO2 is emitted if recycled glass is used to create new glass. However, she bases her emissions calculation on the use of 100% virgin materials and does not take into account the major progress manufacturers have already made to reduce the weight of bottles.
A European Life Cycle Assessment for glass bottle production shows that, on average, every tonne of recycled glass saves 670 kg of CO2. Increasing the amount of recycled glass in the furnace by 10% decreases energy use by 3%. When glass is recycled, there is no need to produce, process and transport the virgin raw materials or to transport them, so less fuel is used. Glass bottles can now be produced with up to 100% recycled content – infinitely. This is certainly not the case for plastics.
Glass is Healthy
An area where glass shines is in terms of its health properties. Bisphenol-A (BPA), a component of many plastics, has been found to disrupt the hormone system of human beings. Plastics can also contain phthalates or antimony. Baby bottles containing BPA have already been banned in the EU, and toxicologists have also raised concerns over the effects of phthalates and antimony. By contrast, glass is 100% inert – a major advantage for consumers.
Glass Protects Vital Resources
In terms of the expense of raw materials, Hecketsweiler points out that glass is made of natural ingredients which are found in abundance in nature. Glass container production efficiently uses resources and does not depend on oil. If renewable energy is available and secure, glass can be produced without the need for any fossil fuels.
By contrast, plastic is derived from oil. Around two kilograms of oil is required to produce one kilogram of PET plastic. Overall, the manufacture of plastics absorbs 4% of the world’s limited supplies of oil.
Glass Represents Real Value
While glass comes out ahead of plastics in most areas, the one area in which Hecketsweiler believes plastic can compete is price. However, her survey only covered two products in one French supermarket. As European consumers already know, most products are priced the same despite the packaging material used.
It is true that high quality products are often packaged in glass because it is the most reliable material in terms of taste preservation. Glass also guarantees a much longer shelf-life for the product, helping to reduce food waste in the supermarket and at home. That has to be good for both your purse and the planet!