Glass Containers

SIC 3221

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing glass containers for commercial packing and bottling, and for home canning. Products include ampoules; bottles, containers, jars, and jugs for packing, bottling, and canning; carboys; cosmetic jars; fruit jars; medicine bottles; packers' ware; vials; and water bottles.

Industry Snapshot

The U.S. glass container industry manufactures two basic types of containers: narrow-neck and wide-mouth containers. The industry further classifies containers by their end use, creating categories of glass designated for food, beverages, beer, liquor, and wine; chemical, household, and industrial uses; toiletries and cosmetics; and other uses, including medicinal and health supplies. In the middle years of the first decade of the 2000s, the U.S. industry was producing about 35 billion glass containers annually, or 238.4 million gross. More than 80 percent of the containers produced were narrow-neck bottles. Clear glass containers are the most common, accounting for 50 percent of the total manufactured, with brown containers being the second most common color and green being a distant third.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that shipments of glass containers fell 1.4 percent in 2006, with production up 1.6 percent. According to industry watchers, the glass food container market continued to lag behind plastic containers. Susan Sutton reported in the December 1, 2007, edition of Ceramic Industry that "Glass prospects could benefit from a premium and high-purity image, which are key advantages with increasingly popular organic and/or natural foods." Shipment values for glass containers totaled $8.4 billion in 2008, with the vast majority of glassmaking plants located in Ohio. As the economy faltered, industry revenues fell to $6.8 billion in 2010.

Organization and Structure

The two types of glass containers, narrow-neck and wide-mouth containers, are used interchangeably, depending on the product, but tradition or utility occasionally dictates specific bottle types. For example, milk is normally packaged in wide-mouth containers, both wide-mouth and narrow-neck bottles are used for cosmetics, and narrow-neck bottles are more practical for perfumes. The majority of narrow-neck bottles are manufactured for the beverage industries.

Consumer preferences and marketing strategies often combine to determine whether a product is packaged in a wide-mouth or narrow-neck container. One company used feedback from consumer focus groups to determine the best container for mustard. Participants expressed preference for a wide-mouth jar that would allow the use of a large serving spoon or spatula. The company's selection of a wide-mouth container originated from an entirely different perspective. A smaller jar, in the company's estimation, connoted saving the product for special occasions rather than using it for everyday meals. In this instance, the selection of wide-mouth jars satisfied consumer preferences and complemented the company's marketing strategy.

Shape is the most important feature of a bottle. To be practical, a bottle must be able to stand up, have a filling mouth, and withstand a variety of mechanical handling devices like washing machines, filling tubes, labelers, and conveyors. According to experts, spherical-shaped containers present the most efficient use of glass container weight. After the sphere, the most efficient use of glass is a cylinder with similar diameter and height. The container industry generally favors glass shapes characterized by broad, rounded shoulders, edges, and corners. To ensure maximum strength, the industry avoids the use of square or rectangular shapes, flats or panels, or offsets. Glass containers also are designed to convey a brand image. Clear, beveled-edge bottles offer high-profile products an advantageous shelf presence and easy handling benefits for consumers.

Glass containers combining eye-catching designs with a functional after-life as decanters or collector items are more marketable than plain containers. In the last half of the twentieth century, small, odd-sized and -shaped bottles were replaced by standardized bottles, in part because manufacturers realized that standardized bottles could be produced faster using the old machinery. Most unusually shaped bottles are no longer produced, making them prized and traded as collectibles. In the 1990s, Dr Pepper issued a commemorative bottle saluting the involvement of U.S. troops in Operation Desert Storm. In contrast to glass containers, plastic or aluminum containers rarely offer any collectible value. Industry-wide, bottle collecting had the potential to increase the industry's share of the beverage market 3 percent and account for 25 percent of all glass beverage bottles.

Manufacturers capitalize on the designer appeal of glass containers by constantly adding innovative styles. The Glass Packaging Institute recognizes creative glass containers by granting annual awards in several categories, including food, beverage, package design, label, environmental awareness, and mature product repositioning.

Changing the design of a glass container entails more than adding a new face. Most design changes create a ripple effect on the overall product manufacturing process, affecting cost and product positioning. The slightest modifications, such as a round food jar or adding a modest blown-in decorative effect, can increase the container's weight 20 percent. Maintaining lighter weight without reducing container strength continues to be a persistent industry concern. One solution to the weight problem is to use a narrow-neck press and blow technology capable of manufacturing more efficient containers with weights lowered between 15 and 20 percent. Another possible solution to the weight reduction problem was the development of a process that uniformly maintains glass wall thickness and enhances the container strength through some type of coating. The results were a 12-ounce container weighing 3 to 4 ounces. According to an industry spokesperson, once manufacturers improve control over the container production process, weight problems will be alleviated.

Many superbly designed containers generate both consumer delight and production havoc. For example, when Welch's redesigned their popular jelly jar to feature a new teardrop-shaped container, consumers were happy, but the redesign caused countless cost and handling problems. Because the tapered glass jar was the smallest at the bottom, with jar-to-jar contact only at the shoulder, containers frequently toppled over on the conveyors. Case packing of the teardrop jars required manual packing rather than the usual mechanical handling, which added three packers per shift. Because of the additional costs associated with the new design, the company redesigned the container by making the container base the same diameter as the shoulders. The slightly heavier jar caused a modest increase in freight costs, but by eliminating the jar's tendency to tip, case packing increased 2,000 per shift, eliminating the need for additional production shifts.

For many other products, the image qualities of glass containers combine with other features to convey a unique premium appeal. Glass-packaged wine coolers, for example, were tremendously popular in the mid-1980s, with daily sales as high as 3 million bottles. Analysts attributed the boom in part to the popularity of the single-serve bottle, a concept that was virtually unknown a few years earlier. Successful demonstration of the concept with wine coolers led to single-serve juice beverages and later bottled water. For example, Gatorade reported a 30 percent sales increase in one year following the introduction of a 16-ounce, single-serve, wide-mouth bottle, convenient for carrying "at the point of sweat," according to Gatorade Vice President Tom Reynolds. More than 100 companies later joined the promotion of the health advantages of single-serve bottles. The single-serve concept also motivated distilled spirits producers to carve their own niche by introducing spirit coolers in single-serve glass bottles.

Background and Development

For centuries, glass objects were made by artisans using hand-blowing methods. Many products created by these highly trained craftsmen are found in art museum collections. Mechanization came to the glass-making industry with the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent introduction of pressing machines. This and other refinements promoted a range of new designs and uses of glass containers. Wide-mouth Mason jars became popular in the United States in the early 1900s, while the popularity of narrow-neck jars developed more slowly.

M. J. Owens and E. D. Libbey implemented a new process of bottle making by filling and dipping the first, or blank, mold into hot glass and evacuating the air from the mold. Several years of experimentation led to the development of an automated bottle machine. By 1920, 200 of these automatic machines accounted for approximately 45 percent of the total U.S. bottle production.

In 1975, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued standards and guidelines covering wastewater discharges from glass container manufacturing plants. The regulations targeted oil and grease pollution that originated from soluble oils used in glass shearing, machine lubrication, and condensation from compressed air systems. Oil and grease pollution stems from the biodegradable nature of the emulsified oil that subjects cullet-quench systems (broken or refuse glass added to new material to facilitate the glass-making procedure) to severe biological growth problems. According to Glass Magazine, biological growth within cullet-quench systems degrades oil and grease removal efficiency, often resulting in discharge values exceeding regulatory standards. In addition, the biologically fouled cullet-quench system precipitates a potential health hazard in the form of Legionnaire's Disease and contributes to unpleasant working conditions.

A Packaging magazine survey in 1986 found that the promotion of glass containers had been successful. For several years, advertisers in the glass manufacturing industry had focused on the positive aspects of glass container use. At one point, glass container manufacturers sponsored advertising campaigns touting their product as a naturally pure, recyclable taste protector. The Nickel Solution Trust, which was formed in 1983 by a coalition of labor organizations and glass container manufacturers, was particularly innovative for the industry. Employees of glass container companies pledged a nickel of each hourly pay, and employers contributed matching funds, to pay for glass promotions. Since its inception, the trust has expended more than $21 million for recycling program development and management.

In 1997, production of glass containers totaled 247.4 million gross, which was outpaced by shipments of 254.5 million gross. The next year, glass container output was 256.4 million gross, but shipments were only 253.7 million gross. The production and shipment of narrow-neck containers consistently outrank those of wide-mouth containers. Shipments of narrow-neck containers in 1997 were 200.5 million gross, while shipments of wide-mouth containers were 54 million gross. In 1998, shipments of narrow-neck containers had risen to 200.9 million gross, and shipments of wide-mouth containers had dropped to 52.8 million gross. Wide-mouth containers are most popular for food, including dairy products, and sales and production remained steady. The lowest shipment and production levels were for narrow-neck and wide-mouth chemical, household, and industrial containers. At best, the glass container industry can be described as flat, with bottle shipments projected to remain flat, according to analysts. Continued overcapacity and the threat of conversion to alternative packaging are expected to keep price increases in the 3 to 3.5 percent range.

Several factors have contributed to the stagnant condition of the glass container industry. Since the 1980s, the glass container market has suffered a steady loss of market share to alternate plastic and can packaging. Analysts blamed the beer industry as a major factor in the decline of the glass container industry. More than 85 percent of the decline was due to brewers switching to aluminum cans, and industry leaders considered the lingering residual of this change would continue to pose an imminently significant threat. Although the shipment and production of beer bottles remained high, at about 88 million, analysts feared a decline as higher price tags forced consumers to switch to lower-priced canned beer.

The Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) considered one drawback to recycling was the forced deposit laws that require consumers to pay a deposit and then return the containers to the store for a refund. Such legislation is deemed devastating to the market share of environmentally friendly glass containers, and industry leaders argue that deposit laws influence consumers to opt for plastic containers. The GPI believes the most effective way to reduce solid waste is not by forced deposit laws but through comprehensive curbside recycling. The practice of bottle refilling as an alternative to recycling may undergo a comeback.

At the beginning of the 1990s five major bottling companies switched from plastic to glass containers because of consumer preference, environmental climate, and packaging costs, according to the GPI. According to investment analysts, however, falling resin prices had the potential of signaling a return to plastic. In 1989 a price differential of 20 percent between plastic and glass caused plastic to lose its market share to glass, primarily in the 16-ounce container segment. When the differential was closer to 5 percent or less, plastic regained some of its share. Until the glass container industry develops a more cost-competitive, lighter weight, or break-resistant package, analysts foresee fewer gains derived from anticipated growth in the soft drink market.

Raw materials left over from the manufacturing process created another challenge for the glass container industry. According to an industry spokesperson, only 85 to 90 percent of the melted raw materials are converted to a marketable product. The remaining 10 to 15 percent of raw material becomes cullet or discarded waste, mostly broken glass. Industry leaders were seeking satisfactory uses for this cullet.

During the 1990s the glass container industry continued to lose market share to plastic, although at a slower pace from the previous decade. For example, plastic containers used for beverages jumped from 14.3 million units in 1990 to 46.6 million units in 2000, while glass containers used for beverages fell from 30.7 million units in 1990 to 28.9 million units in 2000. Of the 244.3 million gross shipped in 2001, 51 percent of all glass containers were used for beer, which was the industry's largest market category. Food containers accounted for 23 percent of shipments; carbonated and noncarbonated beverages, 9 percent; and wine, 5 percent.

Playing on glass's image as being more trendy and prestigious than plastic packaging, the glass container industry hoped to overcome its drawbacks, including heavy weight that also increased shipping costs and breakability. As a mature industry, it struggled to identify new markets, but has reported significant growth in the ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages category. The increase in demand prompted longtime industry leader Owens-Illinois to open a cutting-edge facility in Windsor, Colorado, in 2005, the first new glass manufacturing facility built in the United States in two decades.

Current Conditions

In the middle years of the first decade of the 2000s, most glass containers produced were for beer. The remainder of glass containers produced was used for food, wine, ready-to-drink alcoholic coolers and cocktails, and liquor. All other uses, including chemical, cosmetic, household, health, industry, medicinal, and toiletry products, together accounted for about 4 percent. Between January and May 2007, glass container shipments grew 1.2 percent as production fell 0.6 percent. The industry reported an estimated 238 establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing glass containers for commercial packing and bottling, and for home canning, valued at $8.3 billion in 2008.

The Freedonia Group projected that U.S. food container demand would grow 3.3 percent to $23.5 billion in 2011, while the glass container market was expected to lag behind increased demand for plastic containers, bags, and pouches. The glass food container market could get a boost as consumers become more and more health conscious, choosing organic and healthy food products. In 2008 the glass food containers held 3.8 percent of industry share and reported $1.4 million in shipped goods.

According to the Glass Packaging Institute Web site, "Leaving a smaller environmental footprint and appealing to the health-conscious consumer were the major areas of focus for the North American glass container industry in 2010 and will continue to be in 2011." Industry leader Owens-Illinois introduced its "lightest ever" wine bottle weighing 11.6 ounces, which was 27 percent lighter than comparable wine bottles. Not only was the lighter wine bottle more environmentally friendly, but it also would trim manufacturing costs.

In 2010 there were 48 glass manufacturing plants in 22 states. Narrow-neck bottles used for bottling beer accounted for 59 percent of shipments; 18 percent for food containers; 8 percent for non-alcoholic beverages; 6 percent for wine; 4 percent for liquor; 4 percent for ready-to-drink alcoholic cocktails and coolers; and 1 percent for cosmetics, toiletry products, and medicines.

Glass container shipments fell 4.8 percent from 177,217 between January and October 2009 to 168,603 for the same time in 2010. Production fell 6.1 percent from 179,154 between January and October 2009 to 168,065 for the same time in 2010.

One area exhibiting resilient growth was the wine category, which boosted the industry's bottom line. Symphony IRI Group reported that wine purchased in 187ml to 4 liters glass bottles accounted for 82.8 percent of wine sales by volume for the year ending November 28, 2010. Although the wine category accounts for only 6 percent of the U.S. glass industry, Joe Cattaneo, president of the GPI, told Wines & Vines in March 2011 that "It is the most profitable part of the glass container industry,", adding that "We get higher value from the wine industry."

Industry Leaders

The undisputed leader in the glass container industry at the end of the first decade of the 2000s was Owens-Illinois Inc., with 24,000 employees and 2008 revenues of $7.88 billion that fell to $6.63 billion in 2010. Owens-Illinois Inc. (0-I) acquired the VDL Co., a glass container plant in Vergeze, France, in August 2011. VDL's plant is located near the Nestle Waters Perrier bottling facility, which will enable O-I to become the primary supplier of glass bottles for the Perrier brand as well as the top global bottled water company, Nestle Waters. In addition, Jose Lorente, president of O-I, indicated that "O-I has the opportunity to support some of the preeminent brands in the water segment and reinforce glass' position in this important category."

Second in the U.S. industry was Saint-Gobain Containers Inc., with 4,000 employees and estimated sales of $869.3 million for fiscal year 2007. Tampa, Florida-based Anchor Glass Container Corp., formerly a subsidiary of the now-bankrupt Canada Consumers Packaging, was another industry leader, with estimated 2007 sales of $290.5 million. The company operated eight glassmaking plants serving the food and beverage markets with Anheuser-Busch as its largest consumer. Anchor Glass revenues grew to an estimated $800 million in 2010 with about 2,900 employees.


In 2002 the industry had 16,102 employees. That figure dropped to 13,532 employees in 2005, but increased to 18,468 workers in 2010. Noting significant improvements in labor productivity per unit, an Owens-Illinois spokesperson commented that producing a high-quality product continued to require an excessive amount of work. While labor constitutes 35 percent of the cost of glass, it is only 9 percent and 13 percent of costs to manufacture cans and plastic, respectively. Although the use of sophisticated control systems in the future is expected to require more operator interpretation than intervention, production workers in glass manufacturing must be better trained and more knowledgeable than most manufacturing employees.

America and the World

Glass container consumption in China was projected to grow 8.9 percent annually before reaching 181 billion units in 2010. Of that total, nearly all glass containers produced were utilized by the beverage market for the abundant amount of beer produced in China.

Research and Technology

Flexibility may determine the glass container industry's response to environmental challenges. Glass containers, which are 100 percent recyclable, can be repeatedly melted and made into new glass containers. In addition, glass recycling creates no additional waste or by-products. Nevertheless, glass recycling ranks lower than that of plastic. The GPI questions the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) statistics for the 10 to 12 percent recycling rate for glass, 20 percent for plastic, and 55 percent for aluminum cans. Glass continues to retain a positive recyclability perception, while the recyclability of plastic beverage containers is accepted by only 20.7 percent of consumers.

During testimony before a Congressional subcommittee, the Glass Packaging Institute cited three major problems for the glass industry's recycling program: plants are located primarily on the East and West coasts and in the Southeast, making the transportation of glass from community collection facilities to these plants expensive; increasing amounts of green containers for recycling exceeds the domestic demand for these containers; and damage to the manufacturing process caused by loose quality control at local collection sites, such as mixing recyclable and non-recyclable glass. Some experts have indicated that the most viable recycling solution comes from less packaging. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, 16-ounce glass bottles were reduced 30 percent, lowering the amounts of materials and waste.

By the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, a few technologies were capable of breaking up the oil and grease found in glass container plant wastewater. One technology is carbon absorption, a process in which wastewater passes through a bed of activated carbon that absorbs the oil and grease. This process is more applicable to small flows with relatively low oil and grease loadings. The process of chemical coagulation followed by dissolved air flotation (DAF) is another process, using chemical emulsion breakers and other processes that are added to wastewater to break emulsion. DAF has been used successfully, and research continues to seek various emulsion-breaking chemistries.

Since 1975, compliance with national standards resulted in significant improvements in the control of oil and grease in wastewater by glass container manufacturers. In the 1990s, companies placed greater emphasis on research and development to upgrade wastewater treatment technologies to comply with stringent state and local effluent standards.

The recyclable features of glass products was expected to play a major role in the safe disposal of hazardous waste. The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) opened a $1.3 billion Defense Waste Processing Facility in South Carolina to test the feasibility of encasing radioactive materials in glass. This process, known as vitrification, required hazardous waste to be encased in "logs" of strong glass wrapped in steel. Steel cylinders measuring 10 feet high and 2 feet around each hold 165 gallons of waste.

Concurrent to the DoE project in the 1990s, California-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was conduting research on radioactivity released from glass. A computer model was designed to predict the release of radioactivity, if any, from a nuclear waste repository incorporating glass. To ensure adequate prevention of harmful radioactive material leaking from glass, scientists performed a variety of laboratory experiments and computer simulations of potential environmental scenarios that might be affected by radioactive leaks.

Large and small glass container manufacturers have spent millions of dollars for high-tech equipment and computerized operations. Part of the $40 million Anchor Glass spent in the 1990s was for the installation of sophisticated quality control equipment on all of the company's production lines. Wheaton Glass invested $10 million in manufacturing operations for containers for the parenteral drug and cosmetics industries. Kerr invested more than $22 million over three years for improvements, including computerized furnace control systems, high-productivity forming machines, and quality control equipment.

Considerable industry attention was focused on eliminating the weak spots of containers by the uniform redistribution of glass. The result was strong, lightweight containers with less glass that were produced more quickly and less expensively than in the past. Several companies achieved outstanding results by improving traditional machinery like press-and-blow molding. Owens-Illinois claimed that its "ten-quad machine" was the fastest forming machine for glass containers in the United States. The ten-quad machine operates at speeds of more than 450 containers per minute.

Glass coatings remained a significant aspect of research and development. Through the Advanced Glass Treatment Systems program, various coatings for strength enhancement of glass containers are being studied. In addition, manufacturers are experimenting with sophisticated hot- and cold-end coatings to reduce breakage and scuffing. These coatings also increase container filling speeds. A New York-based company developed a coating procedure called the Brandt Color Coat process, a water-based acrylic coating that expands colors and textures of glass beverage bottles. Glass can be tinted in a range of desired colors combined with transparent opaque, matte, or frost finishes. The process offers more cost effectiveness and scratch resistance than conventional bottle-tinting methods, as well as a resistance to ultraviolet light, normally harmful to beverages like beer. It also allowed bottle labels to be printed with UV-cured inks without fear of harm to the contents.

In August 1999 industry leader Owens-Illinois announced that it had developed a bottle-making process that substantially reduces the amount of glass consumed. The result is a lighter bottle that is more easily handled by the consume, and a production process that is quicker and more cost effective than earlier processes. According to Owens-Illinois, the Duraglas XLT bottles retain all the functionality of current bottles but add increased strength while lowering the consumption of energy and raw materials in the production process.

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