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O-I’s Complete Life Cycle Assessment of Glass Brings Clarity to Carbon Footprint Conversation

O-I, the world’s largest manufacturer of glass packaging, has released the results of a comprehensive global study of the complete life cycle of glass containers. O-I’s life cycle assessment (LCA), which measures the carbon emissions generated by each phase in the life of a glass container, forms the foundation of the company’s ambitious new sustainability program.

Addressing calls from customers, consumer product manufacturers, retailers and environmental groups for greater clarity in LCA reporting, O-I’s study is one of the first in the packaging sector to follow the complete life of a package – from the extraction of raw materials to the reuse or recycling of the container. The model used for the study also allowed an assessment of cradle-to-cradle life cycle data on aluminium and plastic Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) containers, enabling the first true comparisons between the packaging materials.

“Widespread inconsistencies in carbon footprint assessments have made it nearly impossible to compare the impact of one packaging material with that of another,” said O-I CEO Al Stroucken. “Many assessments used today only take into account a portion of the full life cycle of a product, resulting in incomplete and inaccurate data. Customers are sometimes unknowingly making packaging decisions based on incomplete data. We knew we needed to take the best and most complete approach possible to bring clarity to the conversation and provide an accurate picture of how glass compares with other packaging materials.”

O-I used manufacturing and publicly-available data on the production of aluminium and PET to compare glass with these other packaging materials. O-I’s life cycle assessment model was tested and validated by AMR Research, a respected firm specializing in supply chain and sustainability research.

“Our assessment shows that glass clearly has the most favourable carbon footprint,” said Jay Scripter, O-I vice president of sustainability. “When you look at the complete life cycle of glass, commonly held misconceptions are disproved. Food and beverage makers concerned about sustainability should choose glass.”

Additional findings from the O-I life cycle assessment include:

  • Transporting finished glass containers comprises only a small portion – 4 to 5% – of the complete carbon footprint of glass packaging
  • Using recycled glass directly reduces the amount of energy needed to extract and process raw materials. Every 10% of recycled glass used in production cuts carbon emissions by about 5% and reduces energy use by around 3%
  • O-I’s current use of recycled glass – 47% in Europe – already generates enough energy savings to completely offset the emissions produced by finished goods transportation

O-I has used this study to establish aggressive sustainability goal. With 2007 as a baseline, O-I intends to achieve the following by 2017:

  • Cut its global energy consumption by 50%
  • Reduce carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions by 65%
  • Increase the proportion of recycled glass used to make new containers to 60% globally
  • Eliminate workplace accidents
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