Is glass packaging making a comeback?

It wasn’t so long ago that we relied on glass for most of our packaging. A recent New York Times article stated about 1% of the current U.S. soda production comes in glass bottles, down from nearly 58% in 1975.

People and companies have been trying to move on from plastics for some time due to the overwhelming consensus of its harmful effects on humans and the environment. The first noticeable action was in 2014 when California was the first state to ban plastic bags. 2019 we saw another leap forward as some states started banning plastic straws. Are we on track to ban all single use plastics and move back to more sustainable materials like glass?

To answer this question, Quid analyzed and visualized 3,000 articles that mentioned glass packaging from 2018 to the present. Below is the network view of the conversation.

Quid’s text analysis mapped each article by topic to provide a bird’s eye view of major themes across the entire set of articles. You can see that topics like “Plastic Water Bottles” 8.7% “Recycling programs 8.9%” and “Environment 7.7%” own a larger share of the conversation. It is interesting to point out that “Plastic Waste” sits right in the middle of the network.

This means that plastic waste is the most central to the conversation which indicates it has common language with a majority of the articles in the network. This is interesting market intelligence as the conversation around glass packaging appears to stem from the plastic waste conversation.

From the Quid timeline view, we can see that the volume of coverage around glass packaging has been on the rise since March 2018. If we transition the view over to 100% stacked bars, we can now see which topics have decreased or increased over time.

For example, the pink highlighted sections below represent articles on Coca-Cola reasoning that they aren’t switching entirely over to glass because “their customers still want plastic”. A topic we should be monitoring as the glass packaging conversation continues to evolve. Another interesting topic is the “Natural Beauty Brands” cluster with the light blue color. These articles have slightly increased over the last year and they focus on glass packaging for cosmetics.

Coca-Cola articles on “their customers still want plastic”.

Beauty and cosmetic packaging.

The scatter plot view (below) is a great way to understand articles or topic engagement. The image below shows each article on an X-axis of publish count and a Y-axis of social engagement. We wanted to call out two articles that are in interesting areas of the graph. The first is the red node on the upper left side. This is an article on Portuguese Airlines Hi Fly and how they became the first airline to ditch single use plastics on their flights. It was a test flight and they didn’t mention what material they substituted the plastic with, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction! The location of the node means that it received a lot of social attention but wasn’t really republished. On the other side of the chart, the light red node represents an article on how the San Francisco Airport recently banned plastic water bottles. This area of the graph signifies that this article received a high amount of engagement on the social and republishing side.

Moving back to the cluster, specifically in the “Sustainability” cluster, we see several articles on the U.S.’s first new glass container plant in 12 years, a $123 million facility being built by Arglass Yamamura LLC in Georgia. It looks like we’re slowly moving away from single use plastics, and glass is making a comeback but it’s hard to determine if glass will beat out other competitors like metal.

Saabira Chaudhui, the author of the New York Times article we referenced at the beginning said it best. “For glass makers who have struggled with decades of declining share in areas like milk, soft drinks and beer, this is a big window of opportunity and there’s a lot at stake. But there’s a big challenge that dents the sustainability story. Glass in the U.S. has a terrible track record when it comes to recycling, with the 33% rate for glass containers only slightly above that of plastic bottles.” The largest cluster in the network is “City Recycling Programs” so it looks like this issue is being addressed as we move back into mainstream production.

We’ll be creating a follow up later this year to see how the conversation has progressed. If you’re interested in sustainable packaging, we recently did a webinar on the topic and you can see the recording here that you might find interesting.

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