Best In Glass
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
We exist in uncertain times. The packaging industry on the whole is currently experiencing the perfect storm of rising consumer pressure, tighter legislation and economic uncertainty. Brands across the board are taking the lead from consumer led values, exacerbated by cultural influences such as the ‘Blue Planet Effect’, and the life cycle of packaging is now held to account more than ever.
However, as we know, not all substrates are created equal.
There is a growing sense from the public that glass, being the product of heat-treated naturally occurring sand, is a more ‘organic’ substrate than plastic and so is fundamentally more eco-friendly. The well-publicised reusability of glass also lends it added sustainability cache in the public imagination. Take a look through your local supermarket for further evidence – many of the heritage brands, or those that seek to display a more ethically-minded brand personality, with qualities such as GM-free, organic or fair trade, often choosing glass over plastic. Plastics bring their own unique complement of sustainability benefits to the table but this is often more difficult to communicate to the buying public, particularly when the recycling loop treats the materials so differently.
Strengthened by an end-of-life reclamation system that is well publicised and better supported by local authorities (everyone knows to separate their glass containers), glass as a packaging substrate travels a very different path to its plastic counterpart. This in itself is neither good nor bad but the question must be asked; how can plastic packaging receive the same level of logistical support, in terms of recovery, as glass?
To put the disparity into perspective, the 2018 RECOUP Household Plastics Collection Survey showed that only 46.2% of plastic packaging in the UK was collected for recycling. Of this, only 34% of it was recycled in the UK, with the rest being exported for recycling overseas. Glass by comparison has a much higher rate of recycling. Government figures show that 67.6% of glass packaging is collected and recycled, bettered only by metal packaging at 71.3%.
What this indicates very clearly is the potential behind plastic recycling and how much further the infrastructure has to go. Glass reclamation figures show that when recycling processes are clear, transparent, accessible and convenient, consumers are more inclined to do this instinctively. As it stands, the plastic recycling systems across the UK are too fractured, with too much variation. By investing centrally and making the plastic recycling system uniform across the country, there is a great deal of value to be gained. Doing so allows a unified message in the same vein as glass recycling, leading to higher rates of reclamation across the board – and a better public image as well.
To further aggravate the problem with plastic recycling today, there is widespread confusion as to what can and cannot be recycled. Again, regional geographic variations make this a complicated affair, not helped by vague on-pack guidance. Imagine if this was as simple as glass recycling – brown glass in one container, green glass in the other. Think of a system that allowed plastics to be sorted in the same fashion – with clarity and ease. Taking into account the Recycling Guide study which showed nine out of 10 people across the country would recycle more if it was made easier and the potential behind such a scheme should excite and intrigue every packaging professional in the country.
However, this ideal scenario isn’t reality just yet. Glass and plastic each have their own roles to play in the packaging sphere and add their own value, but the discrepancy in how the materials are treated at the end of their life cycle is stark and could harm packaging as a whole. So how do we tackle this? How do we go about making plastic as distinctly recyclable as glass? How do we encourage investment into national recovery processes, and how can we come together as an industry to promote this?
Moving the industry together in one direction takes collaboration and open dialogue and we’re fortunate to have a wealth of experience among us. Along the entire supply chain, sustainability is such a core challenge to the industry that setting a united agenda benefits an enormous spectrum of businesses.
As a group, we collectively understand the complexities of the supply chain better than any other singular group, including policy-makers. In today’s legislative environment that often prioritises reactionary policy over long term goals, it can seem like packaging businesses aren’t being listened to. We want to change that; we hope you’ll join us and make your voice heard.