Totally transparent: Glass packaging and the road to sustainability

The packaging sector’s focus on glass has typically been overlooked in favour of cheaper options, but with the rising urgency of climate action, this is now changing. This is not to mention that the onset of the pandemic caused a number of glass manufacturers to switch up their offerings and adapt to new, specialised needs in the market. In this article, I’ll be taking a look at some of the new trends and developments taking place in this rather niche sector and evaluating their effects on the recruitment and executive search fields.  

The glass industry itself is niche and smaller than those of paper or plastic packaging. Therefore, it’s often harder to find the best talent with the appropriate glass-relevant experience. As specialised headhunters, it’s our job to know this complex market inside out, discovering the top talent available whilst looking outside of the box as well.  

Glass packaging is infinitely recyclable, making it inherently much better for the environment than other materials, such as plastic. However, there has historically been a challenge when it comes to how exactly glass is processed into something new – such procedures are often not very energy efficient.  

There’s where companies like Verallia come in. Verallia is the world’s third largest producer of glass packaging for food and beverage, averaging about 16 billion glass bottles and jars each year. The company is widespread, with 32 glass production sites, 3 decoration plants, 5 technical centres, and 8 cullet processing centres spread out over 12 countries. One of Verallia’s cornerstones is the ethos to “Reimagine glass for a sustainable future.” They have acted upon this by partnering with a recycling company, combining their expertise to optimize the operations behind recycling and repurposing glass packaging. The merger is thought to ensure better security for glass supply as well as higher quality of raw materials. This ultimately helps them achieve their goal of enhancing circularity within glass packaging as well. They also work with their stakeholders to help increase the collection and subsequent recycling of glass by raising awareness and supporting those involved in the collection process.  

Verallia’s goal is to ensure the development of “local loops” that allow glass packaging to be infinitely reused. According to the CEO of Verallia Deutschland, “To make glass fully sustainable, we need to act beyond our core business operations to strengthen recycling systems and promote reuse. With a strong partner by our side, we are one step closer towards helping make the circular economy a reality.” 

Then you have the likes of Heinz-Glas, a family-run company – producing glass packaging for the perfume and cosmetics industry – that can trace its roots back 400 years. They describe themselves as being ‘addicted to glass’ and boast a five-pronged sustainability strategy. As a small company, many of the challenges that Heinz-Glas faces are more concentrated than they are for large companies, but their holistic and family-oriented approach makes them well-equipped to handle such difficulties. They document their sustainability journey and claim to have saved 50,000 tonnes of CO2 per year since 2012. They’ve also mastered the art of recycling: at all their German locations, they have a recycling rate of over 90% in total, recycling 100% of all shards from glass production.  

They don’t stop there either. Heinz-Glas remelts their leftover glass fragments and reuses them in the creation of new products, as well as using post-consumer recycling (PCR) glass. The company even has a range of glass products that are completely carbon neutral. In addition to using CO2-free electricity, they have partnered with Climate Partner, a company that helps Heinz-Glas offset CO2 emissions through climate protection projects. All such endeavours from Climate Partner are certified and internationally recognized.  

Then finally, we have O-I, one of the world’s leading producers of glass bottles and jars. The company has historically leveraged new technologies to create the most optimised glass products: more sustainable, more recyclable, more consumer-friendly. The company includes over 25,000 employees and more than 1,800 active patents. With 72 plants in 20 countries, many O-I plants have multiple furnaces to support the volume of glass making. O-I uses recycled glass to make new glass containers, use fewer raw materials, and the manufacturing process itself requires less energy. O-I is currently pilot operating its MAGMA technology, which reimagines the glassmaking process. MAGMA refers to an optimized glass production line which is flexible and modular, which “will enable rapid mobile capacity expansion in smaller increments.”  

There are countless other pioneers in the burgeoning industry of glass recycling and packaging solutions, but it would be remiss not to mention the likes of Wiegand Glas, which currently sits at 8 locations strong, renowned as a leader in glass technology processes. For example, their melting glass furnace, which was developed in the 1980s, was far ahead of its time and continues to stand out due to its low-energy usage and low levels of pollution. They were also early adapters of robotics in their manufacturing plants, having fully automated a number of production lines. This digitalisation of site production is a hot topic right now, where many businesses are striving to develop.    

Please feel free to get in touch with me to discuss anything related to the packaging supply chain, or to discuss how you can implement your vision of the future by finding and retaining the best talent. When working with Proco, our niche specialisms and expert views of the market guarantee that we find the best talent in the industry.  

Julia is an expert on manufacturing and operations within the glass sector and the overall packaging industry. This article is part of a series about the future of the paper and packaging sector. The previous article can be found here. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn to stay up to date with all the latest trends and developments happening across the end-to-end supply chain.  

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