The Basics of Glass Packaging

Tue Mar 19 2019 /
Andrew Hurley

The Basics of Glass Packaging

Glass is a beautiful substrate that serves its purpose as a primary package with an elegant look of sophistication and quality. We’ll share insight on how this material is viewed by consumers, the advantages and disadvantages of using it, as well as its applications in packaging for industries such as food, beverage cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals… all very important things!

Most consumers equate glass with high quality, so most will assume that the product within is also of high quality. Certain brands who want to convey a vintage or “old-fashioned” feel may choose this packaging substrate. Products like jams and preserves are ideal for this. Many consumers don’t consider environmentally friendly packaging an option anymore – it’s now an expectation. Luckily, glass is perceived to be a very recyclable package. It allows product transparency, which is an important factor for purchase intent in the retail setting. As a rigid structure, it’s also sturdy enough to withstand a high amount of force and protect the product.

There are plenty of advantages to using glass as a packaging material. It can be recycled infinitely without a reduction in quality. It is chemically inert – both nonporous and impermeable, which means it’s resistant to the transmission of gases and particles. There are no interactions between glass packaging and products to affect the flavor of food and beverages, even when microwaved. Glass is used extensively to contain delicate flavor and perfume essences. Although certain acids will affect this material, they are primarily used for etching designs. Generally, the substrate provides a strong barrier against a wide variety of acids and bases used in chemistry. The main components of glass are sand, soda ash, and limestone are relatively inexpensive, plentiful, domestic, raw materials. Since it’s included on the FDA’s “GRAS” (or generally recognized as safe) list, glass doesn’t require any product compatibility testing, such as those for leaching and extraction. Other packaging materials must be tested for migrating substances between the product and the package.

Despite all of these positive attributes, there are several downsides. Due to the high-heat needed to melt the raw materials, glass has a rather energy-intensive manufacturing process. Despite lightweighting efforts, it’s heavier than a comparably sized plastic or aluminum container, making it more costly to transport the same number of containers. The high cost of transportation coupled with the low number of recycling plants is leading to a reduced municipal recycling rate – in the US that is. Other areas of the world, such as Europe, provide government incentives. And as we all know, glass can be easily breakable, though breakability is being improved with the new coatings that reduce abrasion.

Glass is primarily used as a container for food items like beverages, sauces, condiments, oils, jellies, and dessert toppings. The usage of this material in food and consumer packaging has decreased by a significant margin compared to previous years. There has been a steady increase in the use of plastics in place of glass, since those packages are lighter, more resilient and more cost-efficient.

Glass, however, is still pertinent today because it provides a unique and premium experience that plastics just can’t match. Unlike other packaging materials that rely on stacking layers together to achieve specific properties, glass is an all-in-one solution. For instance, amber glass keeps UV light from penetrating the packaging and breaking down a beverage like beer. Whereas a plastic application may have to use more than 5 layers of various polymers to achieve similar barrier properties. It is greatly sought out as packaging for beer, wine, and fine liquors.

In general, the cosmetics industry is focused on image and presentation, whether it’s for advertisement, product, or the end-use buyer. To satisfy the need for refined appearance, cosmetic companies still choose to put their products in glass packaging. Though the inherent properties fulfill the typical cosmetic product’s marketing design approach, the primary reason for the use is tradition and standardization across the supply chain and category. Suppliers and co-packers of cosmetic products are used to handling glass. Historically, it has been used for cosmetic and perfume packaging because of its inertness and purity (although, that’s achievable with other substrates in today’s market). Customized glass packaging is more expensive to replicate and is an advantageous anti-counterfeiting choice for this sector, which already has a very high percentage of counterfeiting compared to other retail products. But the primary reason it’s used in this category is competitiveness – products need to have a high-end appearance in this crowded market if they want to sell. Glass has a shelf impact unlike any other packaging material, with clarity, shape, and texture that cannot be matched by other materials. The transparency of glass allows for a clear showcase of the product, while the material’s strength contributes to its premium appearance and feel.

The pharmaceutical industry produces very sensitive products that ensure human health and wellbeing, and primary containers come in direct contact with pharmaceutical chemicals and compounds. Again, glass’ inertness and purity make it a perfect choice. Pharmacological packaging is subject to special ethical standards and regulations, and Type I glass (or borosilicate), meets the most stringent requirements needed for medications. Pharmaceutical packaging most often made from glass are jars, ampoules, vials, and cartridges.

In the food packaging realm, there has been an undeniable shift to the use of plastic over glass, but as we have seen, it’s still relied upon to give an air of refinement, nostalgia, or safety to the product within.

If you liked this blog post and want to learn more about Glass Packaging, sign up for our Glass Packaging course!

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