Is glass an environmentally clear solution?
The North American glass container industry has taken a pioneering step in producing the first complete and thorough ‘cradle-to-cradle’ life cycle assessment (LCA) ever conducted for the industry. The LCA, coordinated by the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), reaffirms the benefits of glass container recycling for the environment. The use of recycled glass (cullet) in manufacturing results in a decrease in primary energy demand and reduces carbon emissions. A cradle-to-cradle LCA includes the entire cradle-to-grave life cycle of a product while factoring in the recycling of the used product back to its original purpose.
“The LCA confirms the industry is on the right track with the goal to use 50% recycled glass in the manufacture of new glass bottles and jars by the end of 2013,” said Joseph Cattaneo, President of the Glass Packaging Institute. “In creating more recycling awareness and working to improve recycled glass collection, the industry is helping boost the cullet content in manufacturing. The study shows increased cullet helps reduce energy emissions, conserve raw materials, extend the life of glass manufacturing furnaces and save energy.” While other industries claim 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. The transportation of raw materials and cullet used in glass production represents less than 4 to 5% of the total energy used in the production of container glass.
While each glass container has its own carbon profile, on average, existing recycle rates offset the CO2 burden when shipping foods and beverages across America. The 50% content rate will only serve to further reduce carbon emissions. Therefore, when examining the entire life cycle of a packaging material, one must also consider the environmental impact of raw material extraction, production, transportation and end-use treatment. The conclusion: when looked at 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 North American glass container industry purposely conducted a cradle-to-cradle LCA to obtain a total picture of our industry’s environmental impact,” said Cattaneo.
“We knew that for an LCA to be useful and to serve as an appropriate benchmark, it had to be cradle-to-cradle. For consumers and retailers to be able to compare the environmental impact of one packaging material to another, all industries should consider conducting complete life cycle analyses. Only then will we have clarity.” Glass containers are endlessly recyclable, made from all-natural ingredients (sand, soda ash, limestone, and recycled glass), and glass is the only packaging material accepted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as ‘GRAS’ or ‘generally recognized as safe’ for food and beverage contact.
A leading sustainability consulting firm, PE Americas, conducted the study examining each step from raw material extraction to end use. The closed-looped cradle-to-cradle LCA collected data from 105 furnaces representing 75% of North American glass container production.
There are areas that an LCA is not designed to study where glass excels for both the consumer and the environment. Recent surveys continue to show that most consumers say glass maintains the flavour and shelf life of foods and beverages longer than any other commercial container and is least likely to leach toxins into the packaged products. The trust and premium image glass bottles and jars maintains with consumers is only reinforced by the standard-setting methodology and results of the glass container LCA.
LCA participating companies in North America include Gallo Glass, Leone Industries, Owens-Illinois, Inc. (O-I), Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc, and Vitro Packaging, LLC. The study was conducted in parallel with a study for the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) and its member companies. The methods employed in developing the life cycle impacts are comparable between the two studies, and life cycle assessment and glass experts conducted both studies according to strict ISO 14040/44 guidelines. Both studies also underwent a rigorous critical independent peer review.
The Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) is the trade association representing the North American glass container industry. For the complete report and more information on the North American glass container industry LCA, please visit www.gpi.org/LCA.
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