Some recent whispers in the packaging industry claim that beverage companies are bringing back the glass bottle, though it will not exactly be replacing the plastic containers any time soon. Sales growth rates of glass bottles have been higher lately than the growth rates of soda type beverages in their plastic counterparts, but the total sales of such drinks in glass bottles falls far short of the total sales in plastic containers. As consumers continue to call for more sustainable, greener packaging, one has to wonder if a return to glass bottles is the correct path.
Pros and cons can be argued for both glass and plastic containers, each having unique characteristics when it comes to sustainability. Glass bottles, for example, are easily recycled into glass bottles, which can then once again be recycled into glass bottles. Certain types of plastic can be recycled, though if additives are used in manufacturing the bottles the recycling can be limited or taken out of the equation completely. Some plastic bottles will also be recycled, but not as filter water bottles, a process some refer to as “downcycling”. Though not the end all and be all of sustainable packaging, recycling is an important component, and glass seems to have an advantage in this arena.
Though glass has gotten considerably lighter over the years, the material is still much heavier than most, if not all, plastics used for bottles. In addition, plastic bottles may be created with shorter necks or in smaller forms. The lighter weight and smaller bottles give an advantage to the plastic containers when logistics are analyzed in the packaging process. Shipping more bottles at a lower weight conserves fuel and means fewer vehicles hauling containers down the highway.
Of course, in recent years, the debate over Bisphenol A (BPA) has linked plastic bottles to almost every physical ailment known, including, but not limited to, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Environmental Health Sciences recently reported on a study that seems to show that BPA can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the mouth, similar to the way nitroglycerin might be absorbed under the tongue. Should this study prove true, it will lend credence to the negative claims against BPA that have been largely ignored in certain parts of the world. While glass water bottle with silicone sleeve present a safety concern in that they can break and shatter, given this recent study it would appear that glass is the safer of the two materials.
If anything, the recent study on BPA would seem to give a clear edge to the return to glass bottles over plastic counterparts. However, there are other considerations as well. First, much of the debate stems around glass versus plastic, though other alternatives exist. For example, a container made from plant material is in the works. Aluminum cans seem to have neither a strong backing nor outspoken critics. This despite the fact that it may have an advantage in recycling (higher value equals a higher incentive to recycle) and in weight over glass containers. Some aluminum cans, however, contain BPA in the liner.
Packagers will also look at their existing set up before making any large changes to their packaging process. Though sustainable packaging rightfully continues to gain popularity, companies can still be expected to weigh cost of material, profit and other factors into selecting a package. Also, facilities set up with packaging machinery for glass water bottle with infuser, such as liquid fillers, capping machines and other equipment, will be unlikely to jump at the opportunity to switch to glass, if such a jump requires tens of thousands of dollars to purchase all new packaging machinery. Finally, right or wrong, not all consumers are concerned with the sustainable packaging process. For some – maybe many – convenience and personal preference will trump sustainability. As long as this statement is true, the companies doing the packaging will attempt to give the consumers what they want, even at the expense of sustainability.
In the end, there remains controversy over the best method of packaging a given product. The best solution will come from analyzing each and every project to find the ideal package and process for that given project. By conducting such case-by-case analyses, we can hope to continue to find new packaging options that are healthy for individuals and the planet as a whole.