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Glass can be used in a wide range of packaging applications. Brands and packagers considering single-use glass as a substitute for plastics packaging should explore and consider a number of factors in their decision-making process.
The following are used for general information and illustrative purposes and do not reflect a preference of or an endorsement by The Recycling Partnership or our affiliates or vendors.
High recycled content potential: Glass can achieve high levels of recycled content. Critical to that content is available supply, color separation, and the need for high levels of purity in recycled cullet.
Strong reusability potential: Using glass for deposit-return schemes linked to refill systems (in which the bottle remains intact and is not broken and remelted for recycling) have proven to be effective and have reached scale in many countries, such as drink-refill systems in Brazil and Germany [link to reuse]. For reuse schemes, glass bottles often have to be made heavier and more durable than for single-use applications.
Consider reuse: Glass is durable and can be sterilized. To reduce life cycle impacts and displace primary material production, reuse of glass may be a suitable option in some situations. While reusable glass typically requires a thicker design, glass can be washed and refilled up to 25 times before needing to be recycled, which also eliminates the need to use raw materials for glass production. Establishing reuse programs requires a strong network of glass collection, sterilization, and reverse logistics, prioritizing local networks to reduce transportation impacts. Once glass packaging can no longer be reused, the material should be collected and recycled. Conscious Container is one organization actively piloting glass reuse programs in the U.S..
Invest in recovery and end markets through high recycled content: Due to the predominantly commingled-stream nature of the U.S. recycling system, materials tend to be interdependent. For that reason, an effective recovery system for all materials is an essential ingredient for the success of all packaging materials. Glass faces challenges from a recycling system cost and quality perspective, which has led some communities to eliminate glass from curbside collection. Strong commitment to high recycled content helps strengthen the place of glass in collection and processing. Advocacy and investment for keeping or including glass in collection programs is critical for the long-term success of glass packaging.
Engage with other stakeholders: Glass recycling is addressed by a variety of organizations in the U.S., including the Glass Packaging Institute, the Glass Recycling Coalition, the Glass Recycling Foundation, and the Glass Manufacturing Institute Council. These organizations represent both technical resources and opportunities to participate in joint efforts to improve glass recycling.
(1) Sandin G., Miliuntenko S., “Single-use plastic bottles and their alternatives: Recommendations from Life Cycle Assessments,” (2020), United Nations Environment Programme. (Link)
(2) Glass Recycling Coalition. (Link)
(3) “Life-Cycle Inventory Data Sets for Material Production of Aluminum, Glass, Paper, Plastic and Steel in North America. Report prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” (2003), RTI International. (Link)
(4) Bottled Up: Container Recycling Rates & Trends (2013), Container Recycling Institute. (Link)
(5) “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Report,” (2018), US Environmental Protection Agency. (Link)