Matthew Kay, Glass Packaging Policy Lead at British Glass, highlights what the UK glass manufacturing industry is expecting from the PPWR.


Despite residing outside of the EU, the UK glass manufacturing industry is facing a range of challenges as the European Union prepares to implement the new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). Equally, there are also lots of opportunities, with the introduction of this policy having potential to reduce the environmental impact of packaging materials and promote a more circular economy – in the EU and beyond. 

British Glass is confident that the UK glass manufacturing sector will adapt to whatever changes are needed and continue manufacturing upwards of 8 billion bottles every year, but it is monitoring closely what changes may need to be made. To understand the future role of glass under PPWR, we must first understand what is being proposed and what the potential impacts on packaging could be.

Where are we now?

Amendments to EU PPWR are currently in trilogue, meaning that specific legislative points are yet to be finalised. Whilst exact details are currently unknown, there are some key areas where we can expect significant changes.

Ambitious targets for recycling and reuse of packaging are going to be high on the agenda, as well as the introduction of mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes, potentially creating subsequent increased costs for packaging producers. How these targets are being established is one of the key points of interest for glass packaging manufacturers.

Weighing up the changes

PPWR proposals outline that each EU Member State could be required to reduce its packaging waste per capita by as much as 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035, and 15% by 2040. These targets would be uniform across all Member States, regardless of packaging material.

The impact of these targets is clear - “make less waste so that less has to be dealt with”. But how these percentages are calculated remains a point of contention. This becomes especially apparent when these metrics are mentioned in relation to weight.

Whilst measuring weight provides an easily quantifiable figure, this metric in isolation fails to account for a packaging material’s recyclability, end-of-life impact, or food safety benefits. There is clear potential here for legislation to be interpreted in a way that favours lighter and difficult packaging materials , even if they do not support wider closed loop and re-use ambitions. A potential consequence of this could easily be an incentivisation of more single-use packaging materials that are difficult to recycle.

Thankfully, the solution seems clear; apply material-specific targets to ensure responsibilities to reduce waste are appropriately balanced. British Glass is working closely with its European counterpart, FEVE, to ensure this message is heard as part of trilogue discussions. This is because whilst glass can be heavier than some alternative materials, glass packaging can be a tangible solution to many other problems that PPWR proposals are looking to address.

Drawing the circle

One of the key drivers of PPWR reform is greater encouragement for a more circular economy. Glass is a fantastic material to support these ambitions, as it can be endlessly recycled in a closed loop.

Unlike some other packaging materials, glass is 100% recyclable from product to product, meaning that it can be melted and remoulded into new glass packaging infinitely without ever reducing in quality. No matter how many times glass is recycled, its inert qualities in relation to packaging food and drink items fundamentally cannot be changed.

There is also general support from people to actively recycle where they can, adding more incentive for a wider use of glass. The British public has shown support for recycling glass, with a recent recycle rate of 74% recorded across the UK and with an impressive 92% of glass being captured in the Welsh kerbside recycling system in 2021/22.

The great benefit of capitalising on this support for recycling is a reduced need for raw materials in manufacturing, creating an emissions reduction within the supply chain. Using less raw materials also creates a sizable carbon saving in in the production of new glass packaging when using cullet – waste glass that is processed for use to make new products – in place of virgin materials.

Cullet opportunities 

A higher recycle rate across the EU from PPWR in theory means that more cullet will be collected and processed internationally. For every tonne of recycled glass cullet used to produce new glass bottles and jars, there is approximately a 250kg reduction in CO₂ on site. Alongside supply chain reductions, this can lead to a 580kg reduction of carbon emissions for every tonne of cullet used.

Over the last year, the UK glass industry has been highlighting that a large amount of cullet is currently being exported unnecessarily, when it could be processed and utilised to produce new glass packaging in the UK.

The UK export of glass cullet for making new glass bottles and jars, known as remelt, rose by 79,000 tonnes in 2022, a 31% increase compared to 2021. In total, 335,000 tonnes of cullet were exported during the same period, amounting to 24% of what could be used in the UK. It’s been estimated that this has now led to an increase in site emissions for UK glass manufacturing –of 52,000 tonnes of CO₂, and at an additional £8m energy and carbon cost to the industry.

In response, British Glass is calling upon UK local authorities to consider the destination of collected waste glass to support the UK circular economy and decarbonisation efforts. These same arguments apply to manufacturers in EU states that might potentially have more opportunities to use increased levels of cullet in manufacturing. These efforts could then be supported further due to the increased availability of more recycled materials from effective PPWR being implemented.

Long term solutions

The UK glass industry recognises the importance and benefits of PPWR for advancing the sustainability and circularity of packaging materials in Europe. However, it also urges the EU to consider the specificities and challenges of the glass sector as an energy-intensive industry today. Whilst glass manufacturing does require an input of energy to create products, these processes are decarbonising with advancements in electric hybrid and hydrogen furnace technologies.

There are clearly infrastructure and supply chain challenges to implement fully renewable energy solutions across the entire glass manufacturing sector, but the technology for low-carbon glass production is available. Whilst alternative, non-glass single-use packaging materials might require less energy to produce today, the impact of processing these packaging products responsibly can be challenging and their end-of-life impact is a lot more than glass packaging. As the emissions continue to be reduced in glass manufacturing, glass packaging will be net zero packaging material with no end-of-life impacts on the environment.

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