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Why glass has a bright future - according to a packaging expert

As flexible packaging solutions continue to dominate the headlines in terms of sector growth and market share, what lies ahead for traditional materials such as glass? David Harrison, chief operating officer at the PPMA (Processing and Packaging Machinery Association) Group of Associations, explains why glass packaging still has a bright future.


With constant reports and predictions forecasting the ongoing growth and dominance of flexible packaging, it is easy to see why the outlook for more traditional solutions such as glass may look a little bleak. Indeed, the flexible packaging market is set to grow by 4.9 per cent by the year 2025 to reach a value of the $311.38 billion. And yet, if you look behind these initial headlines, there are positive trends that indicate glass-based packaging solutions still have their place in the global market and will continue to play an important role in the future of packaging.

While glass represents one of the oldest forms of product protection, it does have limitations versus the latest innovations in plastic-based flexible packaging materials. However, its benefits of heritage, returnability and premiumisation are without question. Glass is trusted, sustainable, 100-per-cent and infintely recyclable and reusable. These inherent characteristics are responsible for the continued demand for glass packaging and its resurgance in popularity for certain sectors and in some regions of the world. These findings are reflected in the results of our recent Global Packaging Trends Report 2019.

According to the report, glass bottles remain the packaging solution of choice for alcohol, in particular beers, wines and spirits. In Australia for example, out of a total of 36 billion packaging ubnits sold, glass bottles account for the second largest market share at 15.9 per cent, not far behind flexible packaging at 20.3 per cent. In this region, both alcoholic and soft drinks account for this large portion of the market share for glass packaging. Feedback from the report found sustainability to be the driving force behind this figure, with the impact of packaging on the environment leading consumers in the region to seek recyclable, reusable and reduced waste materials. This is enhanced further by the 'Return and Earn' bottle scheme, which is prevalent in the region. According to the report, glass bottles for beer, wine and cider in this region is are set for a 1.9 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to 2023. 

Wellbeing and premiumisation are further trends identified in the report as important drivers of demand in confectionary, baby food, spreads and sauces. Glass-bottled water is also prospering in Australia, with several manufacturers turning to glass to differentiate their proucts and communicate a sense of quality and wellbeing. For example, if you take the Australian water brands Truewater and AquaBotanical, both products were launched in glass bottles to reflect a premium and 'good-for-you' image. Similarly, the Norwegian bottled water brand Voss also opted for a 'signature' glass bottle to help convey its 'purity'.

Furthermore, bottled water in Eastern Europe remains popular, with the report projecting the highest growth in the beverage sector. While polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles still dominate ethical living concerns and health preferences remain high amongst Eastern European consumers and they expect packaging to be sustainable. This is having an increasing influence on purchasing choice, which is responsible for the growth of glass over plastic. It is here that glass packaging is serving the consumers' desire to av oid contributing to the global plastic pollution crisis. Glass-bottled beer, which accounted for 63 per cent of a total of 16.6 billion units in 2018, is also set to continue its strong market presence in Eastern Europe, with healthy growth predicted in several countries. 

Beer packaging was the leading category in Latin America, with glass bottles being the dominant pack type, reflecting the drive by major brewers to leverage its greatest asset: returnability. Latin America's beer industry is highly concentrated around returnable family-sized glass bottles, with eco-friendly glass weights expected to gain growth of around 2 per cent in the future. This, together with increased sales of craft and premium beers, is also helping to drive growth in the use of glass bottles throughout the region. In Mexico, glass bottle usage is expected to register a 3.6 per cent CAGR from 2018 to 2023. In 2017, beer - the single largest alcoholic beverage in terms of packaging volume - led the share of returnable glass bottles sold, with 55 per cent of all glass beer bottles in Mexico returned by price-sensitive consumers.

The eco-friendly credentials of glass are hard to ignore and with much media coverage and international political debate surrounding the global plastic pollution crisis, the cradle-to-cradle closed loop recycling of glass will continue to work in its favour. According to the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE), one tonne of recycled glass saves 1.2 tonnes of virgin raw materials and 60 per cent of CO2 across the supply chain, while reducing air pollution by 20 per cent and water pollution by 50 per cent. What's more, the energy saved from recycling just one glass bottle can power a computer for up to 20 minutes.

Figures released by FEVE last year indicated that glass continues to maintain its position as the leading packaging material for spirits, wines and beer and is increasingly gaining market share in the food, water and dairy sectors. The cosmetics, beauty and pharmaceutical industries are also proving growth areas through glass packaging's perceived 'premiumisation' qualities promoting elevated brand position and product differentiation. An example of this can be seen in Clinique's decision to launch a new moisturiser in India specifically in a glass container to reflect quality and premium brand status.

The heritage and longevity of glass, together with health and safety concerns amongst consumers, are also playing their part in the new-found appeal and 'trust' of glass packaging. FEVE research shows that, in Europe, more than 50 per cent of consumers indicate glass to be the safest food packaging material and their preferred packaging type, with that figure rising to 78 per cent amongst consumers considering glass drinks packaging. The inert nature of glass means there is no interaction chemically with its components; it protects from contamination and helps to preserve contents for longer. Further testament to society's trust of glass packaging was evident when, back in 2015, India banned the use of PET as a primary packaging material for oral drugs for more vulnerable patients, in favour of glass packaging.

While glass remains the second most popular packaging material in Europe, in terms of volume, there is no doubt that flexible packaging solutions will continue to dominate the packaging landscape in the coming years. However, the industry should not dismiss the niche growth areas for glass packaging fuelled by changing attitudes towards sustainable and safe packaging. Glass containers are 30 per cent lighter than they were 20 years ago, and manufacturers are continuing to research and develop ever lighter and robustt glass solutions. These new developments in glass as a packaging raw material, and consumers' perception of it as a trusted packaging solution, certainly points towards a clear and bright future.


22 March 2020 - David Harrison, PPMA