Glass sustainability, first Assovetro report

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Reusable, recyclable, safe and better than others for food contact, glass is an undisputed player in the circular economy. The progress in environmental, economic and social terms of Italian production is described in the first Sustainability Report, presented in Rome, 18.2.10 by Assovetro.

Production and investment grow

The Report, prepared by Ergo, a spin-off of Sant’Anna University of Pisa, summarizes the performance of 18 Italian industries over the three-year period 2016-2018. 15 producers of hollow glass (bottles, jars, etc.) and 3 of flat glass, which account for about 90% of the industrial plants in Italy.

Italy-with 5 million tons of glass produced in 2018-supplies one-seventh of all European production. Second in hollow glass, after Spain, since 2014. With production capacity still growing.

In 2018, production increased to 4.4, million tons of glass (+8.2%), in line with sales (+6%). Investments in technology and innovation were up sharply, 298 million euros (+44.2 percent) for plant upgrades and 33 million (+5.6 percent) for research and development with impact on environment and safety.

With this first Report we want to tell the story of our activities starting with the production processes, all of which have their beating heart in glass melting. Particular emphasis is placed on the environmental aspects of our activities. Circularity, above all, is perceived to be of fundamental importance because of the contribution, both environmental and economic, that glass is able to provide‘ (Graziano Marcovecchio, president of Assovetro).

Environmental Sustainability

Energy consumption is the key element in assessing the environmental impact of an energy-intensive sector such as glass production. In addition to being one of the top cost items (15.3% in 2018).

It then notes, in terms of increasing the environmental sustainability of production, the virtuous trend in energy consumption over the three-year period evaluated:

– the share of renewable energy increased by ten points in two years, from 15.37 percent (2016) to 26.20 percent (2018),

– CO2 emissions (which result from the high-temperature melting process), -70% from 40 years ago, have remained stable following the last significant reduction (2016),

– the increase in production allowed for an unchanged energy performance (0.17 TOE/ton of molten glass).

Water consumption-which is conspicuous for glass washing and plant cooling-has also decreased, thanks to the adoption of closed-loop systems aimed at reducing leakage and reusing cooling and cleaning water. The current average requirement is 1.98 m3 per ton of molten glass, with recycled water use exceeding 44% of total water consumption.

‘Attentions on the environmental and food safety fronts have significantly increased the appeal of glass. Glass containers are universally perceived as a guarantee of safety, and year after year the market demands more and more of them. One figure applies to all: in the first 9 months of 2019, production of bottles alone increased by 5.4 percent compared to the same period in 2018. Today Italy is the second largest country in Europe in terms of the amount of containers produced, after Spain,’ (Marco Ravasi, president of the glass container sector, Assovetro).

Champion of circular economy

Performance in scrap recovery and recycling confirms glass as a champion of the circular economy. In fact, thanks to the separate collection system, glass can be recovered and reintroduced into the production cycle countless times, with tangible benefits. In fact, the use of cullet in the vitrifiable mix (51 percent of materials consumed in 2018) enables two forms of energy savings:

– direct, due to the reduction in melting temperature and thus energy consumption,

– Indirectly, due to the decrease in energy-intensive raw materials.

The collection rate increased fivefold (+8.4 percent), compared to packaging released for consumption (+1.7 percent). And the quality of collection has improved, resulting in a recycling rate (76.3 percent) in 2018 that exceeds the targets set in Europe for 2030 (75 percent).

Additional pro-circulation elements of glass are the reduction of process waste (10.7 kg/ton molten glass, -7.7 percent at the end of the three-year period) and high efficiency of use of natural resources:

– 1.11 tons of virgin raw material (sand and soda ash) is required to produce 1 ton of molten glass, and even

– the ratio of raw materials to products is 1:1 when using scrap glass.

‘The economy of the future will be circular or it won’t be. We have to produce with recycled materials’ (Leonardo Becchetti, economist, Tor Vergata University of Rome)

Social sustainability

On the social sustainability front, the sector is characterized by a high proportion of stable workers. The work environment is traditionally male, but efforts have been initiated to reduce the gender gap. Currently, women account for 24.2 percent of office workers and 19.5 percent of managers and executives.

Workers in the enterprises covered by the Report increased by 1.4 percent over the three-year period, totaling 11,277 employees. Nearly 90 percent of workers have a stable contract, and among them 97 percent are on supplementary contracts that provide for collective variable bonuses.

Training, which is essential for worker safety and production quality, is being targeted for investment. In the three-year period 2016-18, an average of 14.3 hours of training per capita per year was provided, peaking at 16.5 hours in 2017.

Marta Strinati

Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".