October 15 2010
The first complete cradle-to-cradle life cycle assessment (LCA) ever conducted in the industry has reaffirmed the benefits of glass container recycling for the environment.
The assessment, undertaken on behalf of the North American glass container industry, and coordinated by the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), and conducted by PE Americas - the international sustainability consultancy - examined each step from raw material extraction to end-use.
The closed-looped cradle-to-cradle LCA collected data from 105 furnaces representing 75% of North American glass container production.
The use of recycled glass (cullet) in manufacturing results in a decrease in primary energy demand and reduces carbon emissions. A "cradle-to-cradle" LCA includes the entire cradle-to-grave life cycle of a product while factoring in the recycling of the used product back to its original purpose.
"The study shows increased cullet helps reducing energy emissions, conserve raw materials, extend the life of glass manufacturing furnaces, and save energy." said Joseph Cattaneo, president of the Glass Packaging Institute.
While other industries claim that the transportation of glass bottles has more of an environmental impact because of the weight of the containers, a key finding of the LCA dismisses this claim. The transportation of raw materials and cullet used in glass production represents less than 4% to 5% of the total energy used in the production of container glass.
While each glass container has its own carbon profile, on average, existing recycle rates offset the CO2 burden when shipping foods and beverages across America. The 50% recycled content rate will only serve to further reduce carbon emissions.
"The North American glass container industry purposely conducted a cradle-to-cradle LCA to obtain a total picture of our industry’s environmental impact," said Cattaneo.
"We knew that for an LCA to be useful and to serve as an appropriate benchmark, it had to be cradle-to-cradle. For consumers and retailers to be able to compare the environmental impact of one packaging material to another, all industries should consider conducting complete life cycle analyses. Only then will we have clarity." Cattaneo adds.