Lightweight bottles and more recycling, the way to decarbonisation of Made in Italy glass

glass decarbonisation

The Italian glass industry, first in Europe for the production of containers, presents data on the decarbonisation of production. Some plants are already ahead. However, the absence of incentive measures, launched in other countries, weighs heavily. The scenario was illustrated in Rome, on 9 April 2024, by Assovetro, the association of glass industrialists adhering to Confindustria.

The Made in Italy glass strategy for decarbonisation

In the two-year period 2021-2022 the Italian glass industry has started important investments to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

The strategy is essentially based on

  • electrification, increase in the share of renewable energy used, new fuels
  • stringent plans to reduce greenhouse gases for production plants through new technological solutions
  • interventions on the product, such as lightening the weight of bottles and jars and greater use of glass cullet in production. The latter made it possible to reduce emissions by 1.042.295 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2022.

Support for the transition, the example of Germany and the USA

The association of the glass industrialists underlines that the energy transition in such an energy-intensive sector requires political and economic support which is already a reality elsewhere.

‘Technological solutions for a change of energy paradigm are there but is not enough, a clear and lasting legislative-regulatory framework must be defined, with adequate incentive systems that make investments sustainable for companies. 

Other countries, to facilitate the energy transition of their energy-intensive industry, have launched economic support plans: Germany for example, with ‘climate protection contracts’, and USA with grants of 6 billion dollars.  

Glass companies are doing their part. Our sustainability report tells us that 68% of the sample examined has formalized a decarbonisation roadmap for 2030 and 2050 and many glass factories are already implementing important changes both in the field of industrial processes and products‘, declares Marco Ravasi, President of Assovetro.

The numbers of glass decarbonisation

The path of the Italian glass industry towards a more sustainable production system is illustrated by Assovetro with the following data:

– the share of renewable energy, self-produced or purchased, represented over 11% in 2022 (+1% compared to the previous year) of total consumption

– the weight of the bottles of wine has decreased by an average of 12% over the last 10 years. This leads to lower consumption of raw materials and energy and, consequently, generates lower CO2 emissions,

– the use of scrap of glass has so far reached an average of 85/87% in the production of dark bottles (with a saving of 0,67 tonnes of CO2 for each tonne of glass produced). If all the Italian ovens that produce light bottles (those that use the least amount of scrap) switched to dark glass, CO2 emissions would decrease by around 8%.

The 2023 Sustainability Report shows how the glass industry also reduced carbon emissions between 2016 and 2022

– nitrogen oxides (NOX), -41%,

– sulfur oxides (SOX)), -49%

– dust, -53%.

Water consumption, in turn, decreased significantly, thanks to an important contribution from the recovery. -39% between 2016 and 2022, -7,2% between 2021 and 2022.

Energy transition, the best examples

Three Italian industries of glass are used for example in reducing its carbon footprint.

1) Local biomass and district heating in Fossalta di Portogruaro

Zignago Glass – 3 billion containers a year – has long established strategic objectives for 2030 and has equipped itself with a real decarbonisation plan.

A key initiative of this path is the Fossalta di Portogruaro plant powered by renewable energy produced by the Zignago Power biomass plant, which supplies almost 100% of the electricity consumed by the glass factory and covers approximately 38% of the Group’s electricity needs.

The thermoelectric power plant of Zignago Power of Fossalta di Portogruaro uses waste biomass (pruning residues, sawmill waste, etc.) from a short supply chain as fuel. Also recovering part of the thermal energy of combustion fumes both to produce hot water and to power a district heating network.

2) Preheating of gases and light bottles from Verallia

Verallia (10 thousand employees and 34 production plants) is carrying out the innovative HEATOX project (preheating of gas and oxygen), where methane and oxygen pass through a heat exchanger applied to the oven. The gases thus enter the oven already preheated and require fewer calories to reach the flame temperature. This involves a reduction of approximately -5% in “scope 2” CO1 emissions, generated by the combustion of gas in fusion activity.

The group also works on super light products with a lower carbon footprint, such as the Bordolese Air 300gr, the lightest Bordeaux bottle ever. A project that uses cutting-edge modeling tools to predict the mechanical resistance of the bottle.

3) OI, the oxygen that cuts consumption and emissions

The factory Oi of Villotta di Chions has started a project to use oxygen in the two melting furnaces to increase energy efficiency. This new technology – ‘oxy-fuel’ – has allowed a substantial reduction in energy consumption (-38%) and emissions (-80%).

Add to this the ‘circular’ reuse of the heat of the fumes, which preheats the glass cullet from separate waste collections before placing it in the melting furnaces.

Less consumption, less glass packaging

The consumer crisis, triggered by the geopolitical crisis and inflation, also penalized the production of glass containers, excellent packaging for food and drinks.

Production of hollow glass in 2023 has in fact decreased for both bottles (-5,3%) and vases (-0,9%).

Import and export of bottles in turn decreased by -11,6% and -18,3% respectively. For vases however, while exports fell by -30%, imports increased by +5,5%.

Marta Strinati

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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".