Glass means sustainable, innovative, healthy, resusable, and infinitely recyclable packaging

In the beer market, glass has maintained its position as the preferred packaging material for many decades. “I have been told by customers that the first chilled sip of beer, including the bottle feeling on the lips, can be the favorite part of a day,” says Mark Comline, Senior Global Procurement Director for Cans and Glass at Carlsberg. In addition, many consumers also feel that glass packaging is more attractive than aluminum cans or other options.


But the preference for glass in beer packaging far transcended the purported experience it gives to consumers. Glass means sustainable, innovative, healthy, reusable, and infinitely recyclable packaging – that’s what makes it a true champion of circularity, for policymakers, brands, and consumers alike. Glass is virtually inert and impermeable, making it the most stable of all packaging materials. With no risk of harmful chemicals getting into the drinks that are packed in glasses, no additional barriers or additives are needed.

Benefits of glass over other materials

Glass has kept its role in beer packaging throughout the years despite the many innovations in materials and packaging forms that have happened around it. This is only partly due to its sustainable credentials. Glass is fully recyclable and can be reused many times without compromising its integrity or capabilities. “Glass is 100% recyclable and customers know that,” says Greg Bentley, Global Packaging Innovation Director at Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABInBev). “Glass goes back into glass. Glass bottles are made from glass bottles. Furthermore, you can break it and melt it using significantly less energy than it would take to make new glass from raw materials.” Many consider this as a major plus that plastic cannot offer. While versatile and durable, plastics are not always recyclable or reusable, and it is usually not a straightforward process when they are.

 Another benefit of glass is that it preserves the freshness of beer. Glass acts as an effective barrier against external influences. “With glass packaging, nothing gets into the drink and nothing gets out,” observes Bentley.  This prevents the aromas from escaping while shielding your drink from interacting with oxygen. It’s this interaction with oxygen that can make your drink go stale. As glass is natural and inert, it prevents any transfer of flavors into or from the beer. It’s a single-layered material that doesn’t require any chemical liners that could interact with the beverages.  “With the amber colour added to the glass the beer is also protected from UV light, which can damage it,” Bentley adds. The quality of the packaging also remains the same, no matter how many times it is recycled, making it the most stable packaging material.

Above all, it is a material that has strong associations in the minds of consumers. Glass brings a premium feel to the packaging that other types of packaging cannot offer. With its heavier weight and more vintage look, it tends to evoke a very different image: one that can inspire the right retro vibe when paired with a colorful logo for craft beer. This is what most brands seek to exploit when they want to communicate a certain image and feeling to their customers. For some, that means offering a heightened sense of luxury with a premium feel whenever a buyer picks up their goods.

Glass can also be designed in different shapes to connect with the history of a product or to send a specific message. Looking beyond the label, the bottles allow for special brews and pints to be packaged in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors – leading to unique, eye-catching designs that match the originality of the brew and the brand. That’s what adds to the thrill for many beer lovers who collect and display their favorite bottles from around the world at home.

Whatever its colour, glass is always green

In the early years of glass packaging, drinking beer and soda from returnable bottles was commonplace. The bottles could be refilled and reused many times, but the practice of returning bottles became less familiar with the introduction of steel and then, later, aluminium cans. Now, there is a steady resurgence in returnable bottles, at least in some markets.

Belgium is one of the European markets where the practice or returning bottles to be reused and refilled is on the rise. In the US, ‘bottle bills’ are being reintroduced in some areas, mandating refundable deposits on beer and soft drink containers. “Returnable glass bottles are designed slightly differently to be able to be used multiple times, in line with sustainable practices,” says Mark Comline, Senior Global Procurement Director for Cans and Glass at Carlsberg. “However, in countries such as Denmark, where deposit rates are above 90%, breweries, producers and importers choose themselves the type of bottles to use for their brands but the law requires that a deposit be charged on all bottles no matter the colour, shape or form.”

Glass bottles are made from glass bottles. Furthermore, you can break it and melt it using significantly less energy than it would take to make new glass from raw materials.

FGreg Bentley, Global Packaging Innovation Director at Anheuser-Busch InBev



Although glass is popular among beer producers, its greatest disadvantage is only its high weight. In direct comparison, PET bottles can be as much as 90% lighter than the multiple use variety made of glass. To counter this, manufacturers of glass packaging are working on weight reduction, such as using tempered, lightweight glass. Reusable bottles produced this way are not only as much as 30% lighter than the standard variety but they are also more resistant to abrasion, which can turn them into a real alternative both economically and ecologically. Lightweight glass further allows thin-sided glass containers to be made, which are just as capable as traditional glass packaging when it comes to strength and durability. Lightweight glass is also 100% recyclable and is completely neutral in relation to the contents. With lighter bottles, the weight of stacking the product is much less likely to cause damage and will also lead to more products being delivered.

A decrease in the weight of bottles and other glass packaging leads to savings, due to the need for fewer raw materials. Lightweight glass also environment friendly. For instance, alcoholic beverage giant AB InBev achieved 17%  CO2e emissions reduction per bottle by just decreasing the weight of the standard longneck beer bottle from 180 to 150 grams.

Drawbacks of Glass Packaging

Despite having benefits and being preferred for a long time in beer packaging, glass also has a few downsides that come along with it.  Cost is one of the factors that every company must consider throughout every aspect of their business is cost. One of the flaws of utilizing glass packaging is that it tends to be more expensive than its plastic counterparts. This is partly due to the higher amounts of energy required to manufacture glass products and the increased shipping rates tied to its heavier weight and more delicate nature.

The fragility of glass packaging is something that must also be considered. A plastic bottle will not break when dropped, but a glass bottle is more likely to shatter. This causes problems at all points in the supply chain – for the manufacturer, handlers, shippers, retailers, and end users. A broken glass container means a useless product, making it a total loss and waste of money.

While glass offers the major benefit of being fully recyclable and reusable, it’s not the perfect fix to all of our packaging sustainability woes. The manufacturing process for glass takes up quite a higher amount heat and energy than that of many plastics, which causes its carbon footprint to be sizeable. According to the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, a 0.75-liter glass container must be used at least three times to bring its carbon footprint in line with a half-liter plastic bottle and the United States EPA says that only about 1/3 of all glass containers ever even make it to the recycling bin.

Prospects and conclusion

The increased consumer awareness and call for sustainable production have given rise to innovations and development in the entire value chain. Many companies have set net zero emissions and are striving to beat the target without altering the quality of the glass used. with so many benefits from reuse to recycle to customized designs, glass offers the best material for beer packaging.

One of the main reasons why brewing experts prefer the bottle is mainly that it enables exhaustive control over the final product by controlling the beer’s carbonation levels. Some brewers prefer to use secondary fermentation, with natural carbonation and that fine layer of yeast sediment on the bottom of the bottle. Drinking beer from a can is about the beer. Drinking beer from a glass bottle is about savouring the experience.

This feature appeared in the March 2023 issue of Sustainable Packaging Africa Magazine. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE