O-I claims glass is greenest, aims to cut carbon footprint

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Carbon footprint

Owens-Illinois, the world’s larger producer of glass packaging, has unveiled far-reaching plans to slash its carbon footprint over the next seven years.

The US-based company has also released a life cycle analysis (LCA) which it claims demonstrates that glass is greener than aluminium and PET. O-I said the environmental assessment would act as the foundation for its sustainability push.

The packaging giant announced its eco-aims to reduce its energy consumption by 50 per cent and cut its carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 65 per cent by 2017 across its global operations. O-I said it would use 2007 as its baseline measurement.

It said it had already taken some steps towards achieving its goals over the past three years, which included reducing some bottle weights by nearly 30 per cent and cutting energy usage by 8 percent.

The company cautioned that recycling systems in some parts of the world may have to be overhauled in order for it to meet its targets.

"Recycling systems work well in certain parts of the world,”​ said Jay Scripter, company president of sustainability. “Europe has the most sophisticated and successful programs, but in the United States and other countries, a significant amount of glass slated for recycling actually ends up in landfills. We want to use that glass to make new glass containers. O-I has an opportunity to be a leader on this issue and make a significant impact."

With its global reach, O-I could be seen as well-placed to influence improvements in recycling practices. It has a major presence in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and Latin America, and employs more than 22,000 people in 78 plants across 22 countries. Its 2009 net sales were $7.1bn.

Life cycle analysis

O-I’s initiative came just days after the publication of its ‘cradle-to-cradle’ life cycle analysis. The study, which assessed the environmental impact of glass, aluminium and PET, covered the full life-cycle of the material, from raw material extraction and transportation to recycling, reuse or disposal.

It said its approach was a more accurate assessment of a material’s effect on the environment compared to other studies that had used a ‘cradle to grave’, ‘cradle to gate’ or even ‘gate to gate’ methods. Such alternative methods fail to take into account the full life cycle of a packaging material and give rise to “widespread inconsistencies in carbon footprint development”.​ O-I said its method was validated by AMR Research.

The ability of a typical 355-ml glass container to be recycled 20-30 times was flagged in the LCA research as its defining eco-feature, said the company. The reduction in emissions brought about by the use of recycled glass in the production of new containers slashed its carbon footprint from 0.117kg of carbon dioxide to as low as 0.006kg. O-I said it currently used 36 per cent recycled glass in its total production, which “already generates enough energy savings to completely offset emissions produced by finished goods transportation”.

Using recycled glass directly reduces the amount of energy required to process raw materials,”​ said the company. “Every 10 percent of recycled glass used in production cuts carbon emissions by 5 percent and saves 3 percent in energy use.”

O-I said it would continue research into lightweighting glass and energy saving production processes.

Comparisons impossible

But some European trade associations have questioned the worth of using lifecycle analysis to compare the carbon footprint of different materials. Maarten Labberton, of the European Aluminium Association (EAA) Packaging Group, recently told FoodProductionDaily.com that industry groups should refrain from using LCA results in this way.

“Life cycle assessments should be used by each sector within the food packaging industry to assess and stimulate environmental improvement in their own production processes and product development and not to draw environmental input and outputs comparisons with other types of packaging materials as it is impossible to compare like with like in this respect,”​ he said.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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