Reusable instead of disposable
Glass packaging is very energy- and resource-intensive to produce. Using recycled used glass reduces the amount of new material required. However, enormous temperatures are required each time glass is melted down and moulded. This is reflected in the CO2 balance. It therefore makes more sense not to produce glass bottles and the like from scratch again and again. Reusable glasses can be refilled up to 50 times and have a lifespan of up to six years. However, while beer and mineral water bottles made of glass are comparatively often returned to their crates and ultimately to the deposit machine, this is not yet the case for wine bottles and pickle jars, for example. In order for glass to live up to its sustainable reputation, the range of reusable bottles must increase.
However, it is also important to establish and expand standards for return, sorting, cleaning and transport. Today, many bottlers find it unattractive to switch to reusable containers because they have to set up their own cleaning system and buy the containers. With a loss of two to five per cent per cycle due to breakage or incorrect disposal, the battle for the glasses begins - which the big player usually wins. With a product-as-a-service model, where containers are only rented for use and delivered cleaned, reusable use also immediately becomes interesting for small bottlers. The first approaches for wine bottles are already in place.
There are also pitfalls with glass packaging, which is already available as a reusable variant. For example, manufacturers want to stand out from the competition and produce beer bottles in special shapes - so-called "customised bottles". Of course, these are then to be sold throughout Germany and often also in Europe. However, the bottles have to be sorted out and travel a long way to the individual bottler, which is one of the main arguments of the disposable lobby against reusable packaging - although disposable packaging also travels several hundred kilometres before it is used again as a recyclate, if this happens at all.
The reusable container is then cleaned in the company's own production facility with its own washing system. In an extreme case, the bottle would therefore travel from Bavaria to northern Germany and back again. But even standard bottles still travel a lot across the country today - because it is not the bottle alone that determines the transport route, but the individually branded crate. The reusable concept developed by pacoon is therefore based on uniform standards for bottles and crates, which are washable to avoid unnecessary transport costs. "Pool containers" are identical and can be reused at all corresponding production sites. Individual containers can still be used, but they are more expensive to handle.
Utilising used glass
We have seen that only a manageable proportion of all glass packaging is already offered as a reusable variant. A large proportion of wine bottles and pickle jars end up in the bottle bank. However, this glass waste is important and valuable, because even if new production costs energy: Glass can be recycled practically an infinite number of times. If it is processed and sorted appropriately, it can even be recycled bottle-to-bottle without any loss of quality. What's more, the energy required to produce new glass is reduced if not only raw materials such as quartz sand, lime and soda are melted, but also used glass. This requires lower temperatures, so that the energy required for recycling is up to 30 % less than for the production of new glass.
Producing thinner glass not only requires less material. It also saves on transport costs, as glass is heavier than paper or plastic. New innovations are constantly being worked on to ensure that thin glass is nevertheless stable. Smartphone displays are already chemically strengthened and therefore more shatterproof than a cucumber jar, for example. Until now, however, this process has mainly been used for more expensive products, as glass production has been based on the old technology for decades. With new methods, the amount of material and risk of breakage can be significantly reduced, making it attractive for the packaging industry. Even in the disposable glass sector, as long as reusable glass is still being produced. Other areas are also conceivable with the new, lightweight, break-resistant glass, which can be wonderfully recycled. Incidentally, glass recycling is often already standard internationally and glass is categorised as sustainable by consumers.
Resistant and lightweight glass
As we can see, the technical solutions to produce and market glass more sustainably already exist. However, the key question will be how quickly the changeover can be achieved and how willing the respective manufacturers are to make the corresponding investments. After all, the individual production lines are designed to last for several decades. This is why the industry may also need to make a concerted effort to implement new technologies and convert production lines for certain types of packaging only. This brings the advantages already mentioned: more cost-effective production due to lower material requirements (up to 50 % less), resulting in less CO2 emissions for the production of the same container and multiplied by a minimum circulation rate of 15 to 20 cycles - climate neutrality for the glass industry is now within reach.