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What is PCR Glass and Why You Should be Using it in your Packaging

by Janet Freund  |   Mar 25, 2021

AmberBottles Horiztonal

Product packaging is a labyrinth of choices for consumers, and by default, for product manufacturers. The pros and cons of using plastic vs. paper vs. glass have generated many studies and endless articles and analyses since the first Earth Day (May 22, 1970) woke the environmental consciousness of the masses.

Manufacturers want to please their consumers and meet their sustainability desires and they want to do what’s good for the planet, but cost and product quality also have to be weighed when it comes to a final packaging decision.

While the debates continue on the right type of packaging for certain products, the markets that look to Carow Packaging for their dispensing solutions - essential oils, cannabis, beauty and health and wellness - have primarily sought glass as the preferred material for containers.

And they’re not alone. In a March 2020 study of American preferences in packaging, 2,000 U.S. survey respondents chose glass first in the categories of reusability, look and feel, and better protection. Why? Glass is inert, easily sterilized, impermeable to gases, and does not cross contaminate. It’s not surprising a glass bottle with its sheer look and pleasing hand weight is preferred above plastic or a waxed carton.

But all glass is not created equal. With the environment steadily increasing as a social issue, what do people who are socially aware want in their glass bottle?



What do consumers want from their packaging?

Perhaps it helps to start by mentioning what they don’t want.

A 2019 lifecycle analysis of beverage containers by the University of Southampton in England called out the environmental problems of manufacturing glass, including the high degree of energy it takes to melt raw materials and the use of increasingly more rare raw materials like soda ash and a particular kind of sand, for example.

Then, there are the widely circulated assumptions that it takes one million years for a glass bottle to break down when discarded compared to only half a million for a plastic container. (Assumptions, because nobody has yet tested those numbers in real time.)

So, how can product manufacturers, who like the protection and feel of glass, offer their consumers a more environmentally friendly packaging option? The answer, one with a high PCR glass content.



What is PCR Glass?

PCR, which stands for post-consumer recycled content, means it is reclaimed from the end-user then crushed, melted down and used again. (Other recycled content in glass comes from broken or reclaimed scrap within the glass manufacturing process itself.)

What’s amazing is that this circular loop of glass recycling can be repeated endlessly without damage to the end product. That makes glass a so-called permanent material, unlike plastic whose recycle life has limitations.

Post-consumer recycled or PCR glass is made from cullet, which is the granular matter resulting from crushed glass collected in recycling programs. Cullet gets mixed with the raw materials of glass (silica sand, sodium carbonate, calcium oxide derived from limestone, and lesser amounts of other minerals) in varying percentages, which then is melted and molded into new products.

The higher the percentage of PCR glass, the greater the environmental impact. An analysis by FEVE, the European Container Glass Federation, found:

  • 2 tons of raw material are saved for every 1 ton of cullet used to produce glass.
  • Every 10% increase in cullet in a melting furnace reduces energy consumption by 2.5%. That’s because cullet melts faster and at lower heat, which also then prolongs the furnace life.

Penn State’s John C. Mauro claims an added benefit is that cullet improves glass quality. Melting cullet does not release CO2 or carbon dioxide, thus the glass avoids having bubbles, crystals and streaking associated with high-temperature virgin glass production. 

What keeps recycled glass from being 100% PCR content?

Simple answer: There’s not enough post-consumer recycled glass to go around.

In the United States, only 33% of glass is recycled compared to 90% of glass in Europe. That’s one-third of 10 million metric tons of glass discarded every year in America.

Of that one-third, only 40% gets recycled into new glass. Why? The curbside recycling programs which are the most popular in U.S. communities gets a large piece of the blame.

In curbside recycling, also called single-stream recycling, everything gets thrown into the same bin and picked up from your curb or alley for delivery to a recycling site. There, it is sorted and anything dirty is discarded.

A consumer practice that insiders call “wish-cycling” is tossing into the bin anything that looks like it should be recyclable, even when it isn’t. Wish-cycling increases sorting time and costs and is part of why less ends up being recycled.

By contrast, glass recycled in multi-stream collections, often with consumers taking their recyclables to a community collection site where they sort it manually into appropriately labeled containers, results in 95% of the glass being crushed into cullet to reuse. This, however, requires a higher level of consumer education and community investment.

pcr glass bottles 2 (3)

What options do you have for recycled glass packaging?

We’re proud to say that select bottles offered in the Carow Packaging line of products contain more than 50% PCR glass, near the highest percentage in the industry. That recycled content level is something our customers also can state on their product labels – and labels don’t need to be removed when glass is recycled, which is a recycling added plus.

Promote your use of PCR glass and promote the recycling of your bottles. Your environmentally conscious and discriminating consumers will notice and reward you with their business.

If you have any questions on our PCR glass amber bottles, please call our Solution Specialists for more information at 815-455-4600.


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Glass Recycling 101: Making the Best Choices for your Packaging Needs

Beauty, Essential Oils, CBD, Health & Wellness

Janet Freund

Author: Janet Freund

Marketing Manager



Let’s talk about your market and your unique packaging needs.