Dr Nick Kirk
Technical Director, British Glass
Glass is an easily and endlessly recyclable material that has been used in packaging for thousands of years. Now the glass industry wants to move towards a carbon neutral production process.
There’s a reason that glass has been around for thousands of years. It’s easy to make, requiring just three components (sand, limestone and soda ash, in the case of modern glass) and it’s versatile too. Because it’s virtually inert and doesn’t react with its contents or surroundings, it’s non-toxic, making it safe to be in contact with food and drink. For the same reason, it’s used widely in scientific, medical and pharmaceutical settings.
Crucially, it’s also easy to recycle and has one of the highest recycling rates of all packaging materials in the UK at 75.8% (DEFRA 2021). That’s why Dr Nick Kirk, Technical Director of British Glass, the representative body for the UK glass industry, believes it’s the most sustainable option for the packaging industry.
“Take an ordinary wine bottle,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where it comes from, its composition will be the same — it’s 100%, endlessly recyclable. While other packaging materials tend to deteriorate over time, glass can be recycled back into new packaging over and over again.”
Working towards carbon neutral glass production
Glass never really fell out of favour with the packaging industry; but its usage certainly plateaued when other materials appeared on the market. Yet there are signs that things may be changing. During the pandemic, for example, more consumers have been ordering doorstep pints of milk in returnable glass bottles.
This bodes well for our sustainable future, says Kirk. “At one time, retailers would decide what packaging material they would choose for their products,” he notes. “But consumers are more aware of the sustainability issues of packaging, and they are choosing glass because of this.”
Glass can be recycled back into new packaging over and over again.
Nevertheless, there’s no denying that glass production is a high temperature process that emits high levels of CO2. Yet Kirk stresses that the glass sector is working towards production decarbonisation to meet the UK’s goal of becoming net zero by 2050.
“The industry is exploring and already trialling glass production using carbon neutral fuels such as renewable electricity, hydrogen and biofuels to reduced energy and emissions,” he says.
“Carbon neutral glass production will happen because, like all manufacturing sectors, the glass industry knows that it’s not possible to continue to use fossil fuels as a main source of energy. So, going forward, glass is committed to becoming carbon neutral and is the packaging material to choose from an environmental and sustainable perspective.”