Glass packaging - good or bad?

Is glass packaging always better? They can be as evil as plastic bottles. But you can totally change that. Find out why!

Featuring a #strawless coke bottle and my hankie :D

Featuring a #strawless coke bottle and my hankie :D

My favourite gym buddies and I went to a junk trip yesterday and visited a local seafood restaurant for lunch. Health/dietary pref aside, I chose to have #coke after seeing they come in glass bottles (vs plastic)! Had they come in cans, I won’t bother. Why you ask?

It’s easy to guess that it’s because cans cannot be reused but glass can. I’m not talking about the restos reusing the coke bottles. No they won’t. As far as I know (and I’m not sure if Coca Cola is using this model, but this is my bet), bottles are collected by the resto and then the brand will take them back, sterilise and refill them.

It’s not to say we can’t reuse aluminium cans for arts and crafts in small scale but we can’t really reuse them as food containers and give it back to the manufacturers.


My choice of Coca Cola in a glass bottle

Glass is very durable - they often last decades. You’ll know if you’re staying with your grandparents. According to my random google search, glass bottles can be reused up to 30 times (in a commercial setting - not your home consumption) before they look like they need to be thrown away haha [1a]. They are also claims that glass bottles can be “infinitely recycled” - not a bad option huh?

Working in an alcohol company, I know that the BEVERAGE INDUSTRY sometimes melt old bottles and make ‘new’ bottles again. I’m betting on the fact that these bottles will be collected (confirmed by speaking to the staff - they worth $1 each!) and then either reused or recycled to be something else. The fact that it costed $1 extra for the glass bottle for takeaway means people intend to do something using these empty bottles afterwards.

In fact, whether companies will use plastics or glass bottles comes down to the business case. There are multiple factors at stake,

  • Using glass bottles saves energy and new resources to reuse old bottles and re-fill them [2] 
  • Should they ever need to make new glass bottle shapes, it’s easier to take these bottles, melt and put them into new mold again.  A process illustrated in [1b]. (It’s harder to recycle glass bottles that are shattered.)

According to a Guardian article [3], there were studies that calculated the environmental footprint of glass bottles vs plastic ones:

How did this system stack up against the alternatives, considering the full ecological impact of reclaiming returnable glass bottles, including washing them? In 1969 Coca-Cola attempted to answer that question by asking the Midwest Research Institute to conduct a life-cycle analysis of packaging. The firm looked at various types of throwaway containers, and compared them with returnable glass bottles on almost every measure: energy expenditure, waste generation, water pollution, air emissions and more. 
This study, which the investigators reproduced for the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1974, concluded that no throwaway “container will be improved to match or surpass that of [the 10-trip returnable glass bottle] in the near future”.


What’s the cost?

  • However, compared with plastic, they’re much heavier. In a business case, they often induce a high logistics costs because they increase the ‘dry goods’ cost. I’m not sure if producing plastics is more / less expensive than glass manufacturing, but I guess the logistics cost that comes along with transportation is also significantly higher. 
  • It also depends on the network of restaurants and collection service. A lot of times it means the bottling facility has to be adjacent to the main restaurant systems that serves these glass bottled beverages, so the logistics cost can be offset by the energy and resources savings.

If you can’t solve that, it’s basically pointless to use glass packaging, at least for a lot of F&B manufacturers. 

You can read more here from the same article from The Guardian:

Deposit systems began to spread in the US in the 1970s, as throwaway steel and aluminium cans replaced the returnable glass bottles that once dominated the beer and soft drink industries. This switch to throwaways, which started with brewers in the 1930s and matured in the soft drinks industry in the 1960s, was in part driven by a consumer culture that craved convenience. It was also driven by economics, as big beverage companies sought to achieve economies of scale by consolidating their bottling networks, and realised they could save money if they didn’t have to truck returnable bottles back to factories.


we need proper glass recycling facilities / awareness

  • Also glass bottled not collected will also sit in the landfill for hundreds of years. It’s not much better than using plastic (they’re still there in landfill when you die). 

  • That’s why it’s IMPERATIVE to improve on the glass recycling facilities in HK and also to educate public about how to recycle glass bottles. 

  • What you can do is also to ALWAYS REUSE glass bottles, if you KNEW they don't come with a collection service.

That’s might be the reason why there are news that Coca Cola is phasing out their glass bottle packaging and use plastic ones. So when I see coke in a glass bottle vs other beverage options in a plastic bottle, I immediately picked the glass bottle option! It’s really rare for a business to be able to afford this ‘recycling’ model these days.

So Cheers!!! And remember to ask for #nostraws!! 🥂