Growing environmental awareness is forcing packaging manufacturers to abandon plastic. Today, aesthetics gives way to functionality. Recycleability becomes the most desirable feature. Glass material may be an ideal solution for our times.
The availability of plastics contributed to the creation of huge amounts of undeveloped waste. They had a drastic impact on the condition of the natural environment, especially waters. Each of us produces over 715 pounds of garbage annually, but only 27 percent of them are put back into circulation. Recycling gives an opportunity to improve the current situation and does not require large financial outlays. Packaging plays a fundamental role in the food industry. It prevents the penetration of impurities and the loss of nutritional values. It is also one of the main factors influencing consumer behavior. At the outset, it is worth making a basic classification.
- In terms of the functions performed, the following packages are distinguished:
- direct - in contact with the product and influencing its quality;
- indirect - not in direct contact with the product.
- Due to the type of material used, the packaging is divided into:
- monomaterial - characterized by material homogeneity, e.g. paper, glass, plastics, wood, metals, textiles of natural origin;
- multi-material - made of at least two different materials that cannot be separated by hand or by simple mechanical methods, e.g. cardboard boxes with plastic film.
An extraordinarily valuable property of materials is their permanence, i.e. durability, independent of the number of recycling processes carried out. This character is shown, among others, by glass. The report of the Polish Environmental Chamber of Commerce on Packaging Design Aspects of August 2020 proves that "chemical bonds formed in the process of melting glass raw materials are so strong that its properties do not change during cleaning and repeated remelting into new packaging" (https: //kig.pl/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/EKO_PROJEKTowanie.pdf). Recycling a bottle or jar is much more profitable than manufacturing from scratch. Glass remains the most natural packaging material. It does not react with the food and does not affect its taste, even when heated. This fact has already been noticed by the American Food and Drug Administration, which granted glass packaging the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status. The vessels made today are lighter than before. Their production consumes 70 percent less energy, which translates into lower CO2 emissions. There are also returnable glass bottles on the Polish market. When we return such a bottle to the store, we do not pay a deposit for a new one. The walls of returnable packaging are slightly thicker, but can be filled up to 20 times before they are recycled. A Polish nationwide deposit system is to enter into force in 2023. It will cover glass bottles up to 1.5l (single and reusable), aluminum cans up to 1l and plastic bottles up to 3l. It is assumed that one ton of recycled glass saves 42 kWh of electricity and 1.5 m3 of landfill area. So, for each ton of raw material recycled, more than a ton of natural resources are saved.
Downcycling and upcycling
The endless processing capacity is a huge environmental benefit. Unfortunately, only a few materials have this property: glass, metal and aluminum. The latter is used, inter alia, in for the production of beverage cans. Usually we choose worthless plastic bottles. Each subsequent recycling of ubiquitous plastics lowers their quality. From a recycled PET bottle, we will not get another - as in the case of glass - but a kind of plastic lumber or synthetic fibers that cannot be further processed. In fact, plastic recycling is limited to one or two processes. This kind of phenomenon is called downcycling. Diminishing the value of the material also applies to paper. Not everyone knows that waste paper consists of long fibers that shorten during processing. Recycled fibers can be processed with the same quality up to 7 times. We only get newsprint from short fibers. One ton of waste paper is also the loss of 14 trees. In opposition to this data, there are studies that say that one ton of recycled glass saves: 1330 pounds of sand, 433 pounds of soda ash and over 430 pounds of limestone. Moreover, upcycling is becoming more and more popular, also in Poland. The concept, developed in the late 1990s, means transforming the by-products of industrial production into valuable secondary raw materials. Upcycling is not only giving a second life to old objects (e.g. using a bottle as a vase), but also a source of valuable biomass that can be used to produce new food products.
Cullet, i.e. post-use glass packaging from glassworks, industrial plants and households, is essential in the process of obtaining glass. Cullet is widely used in construction. It is perfect for processing into glass flour - a component of decorative tiles. Packaging and flat glass is also used for the production of fibers that work well in many industries, such as: shipbuilding, automotive, telecommunications, mining, sports, household appliances and electronics. Thanks to glass fibers, it is possible to produce insulation that allowed us to ensure energy losses. Already 6 beer bottles are enough to provide access to a standard recess in the wall. To obtain a raw material, it must first be properly sorted and cleaned. The glass material is divided into the form: colorless and colored (brown or green). Neither color disturbs the circulation. However, it is difficult due to accessories such as: metal closures, dispensers or plastic labels. Ceramics and porcelain, present in a large part of post-consumer collections, do not dissolve in liquid glass. Special sorters deal with the separation of transparent glass from other products. The remedy for most of the problems is the principle of eco-design, striving to reduce the harmful factors for the environment as much as possible. Bio-packaging is made of fully renewable or compostable materials. Poland, as a leading glass producer in Europe, provides ideal conditions for the production of jars and bottles with the use of secondary raw material. It is worth noting that in the production process, energy costs are reduced by about 3 percent for every 10 percent of cullet used. The cullet contains less chloride and fluoride than the original material. The lower energy requirements also mean a longer lifespan of the furnaces.
The rise of industrialization has increased the consumption of bottles and containers around the world. In 2021, Europe had the largest share of the global market for recycled glass. The leading producers are Germany, France and Great Britain. The recycling rate in Poland is currently 38.7 percent, and according to EU directives, it should increase to at least 55 percent by 2025. The cooperation of the governments of individual countries and the investments of the largest companies in research and development activities are paying off. Recycling is the future of the economy, but its success is entirely up to us.