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. In this blog post we’ll share how glass is viewed by the consumer, the advantages and disadvantages of the substrate, 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 glass as their packaging substrate. Products like jams and preserves are ideal for this. Many consumers do not consider environmentally friendly packaging an option – it’s an expectation. Luckily, glass is perceived to be a very recyclable package. Glass can provide product transparency, which is an important factor for purchase intent in the retail setting. As a rigid structure, glass is also sturdy enough to withstand many forces and protect the product.

There are plenty of advantages to using glass as a packaging material. Glass can be recycled infinitely without reduction in quality. It is chemically inert – both nonporous and impermeable, meaning it is 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 glass, and they are used for etching glass designs, the substrate generally provides a strong barrier against a wide variety of acids and bases used in chemistry. The main components of glass: 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 package.

Glass does have a few disadvantages. Due to the high-heat needed to melt the raw materials, glass has a rather energy-intensive manufacturing process. Despite lightweighting efforts, Glass is 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, but breakability is being improved with new addition of coatings that reduce abrasion.

Glass is primarily used as a container for food items like beverages, sauces, condiments, oils, jellies, and dessert toppings. The place of glass in food and consumer packaging has decreased by a significant margin compared to the past. Consider that common household items, like bleach, used to be packaged in glass containers. 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 which 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 very image-focused, whether it is for advertisement, product, or the end-use buyer. To satisfy the need for refined appearance, cosmetics companies still choose to put their products in glass packaging. Though the inherent properties of glass do fulfill the typical cosmetic product’s marketing design approach, the primary reason for the use of glass is tradition and standardization across the supply chain and category. Suppliers and co-packers of cosmetic products are used to handling glass. Glass has historically been used for cosmetic and perfume packaging because of its inertness and purity (although, that is 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 glass is 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 glass), 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, glass is 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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