Common challenges

Each glass sector has its own specificity and manufacturing process, but the process of glass melting is common to all glass sectors. This physical process involves raw materials, energy and cutting-edge manufacturing installations. It imposes on glass industries sound environmental management systems and heavy investments to remain competitive in the worldwide market place.

Glass Alliance Europe focuses its activities on these common challenges to share expertise, knowledge and best practice for Europe to remain a leader in glass making.

Innovation is crucial for glass industries

Glass industries are investing significant resources in intensive R&D programmes to develop new ways to use glass, to make available new products, to enhance recyclability and effective recycling, but also to improve the energy efficiency of manufacturing sites and therefore further improve the environmental performance of glass products throughout their life-cycles.

These sustained efforts are helping the glass industries to stay ahead of technological innovation, ensuring the worldwide competitiveness of glass products manufactured in the EU, and to satisfy the demand of European customers in terms of quality, performance, design and environmental-friendly materials. In this way, European-based companies strive to strengthen the position of glass as a material of the future.

Maintaining a lead in R&D requires many solid EU policies. One of which is anti counterfeiting policy for the protection of design rights. In the glass industry, producers like those in the domestic glass sector for instance must be able to defend their stylish design and creations that provide them an edge against cheaper products coming from third countries.

Investments in process innovations are essential to get over the current technical limitations to further reducing energy consumption. Public funding should support the industry’s R&D efforts in energy reduction. As such innovation will not only benefit the glass industries but all energy-using industries and will help ensure the smooth transition to a low-carbon economy.

Maintaining a competitive edge against outside EU production

European glass industries are proud of the environmental gains that have been achieved. But the increasingly fierce international competition from outside the EU makes it tough to absorb the higher production costs over our extra EU competitors. Investments in state of the art environmental systems enable our industry to comply with some of the world’s toughest environmental regulations but which, on the downside, unfortunately entail extra costs that are reflected in the increasing production costs.

For example, purchasing of CO2 allowances in the framework of the European Union Emission Trading System (EU ETS) increases production costs and raises competitiveness issues which expose the European glass industries to significant risks of carbon leakage. The European glass industries won a small concession: industries will receive free allowances under the EU ETS if their CO2 emissions are in the region of the top 5% - that is the benchmark. Past that benchmark all industries will have to pay for every tonne of CO2 emitted for the period 2013-2020. Under its current format, the system fails to provide enough protection against carbon leakage and this reality already translates into a redirection of investments from the EU to neighbouring countries in different glass sectors.

As an illustration of this competitiveness challenge, trade actions are on-going for certain glass products. For instance the European Union imposed definitive anti-dumping duties on imports of certain glass fibres from China in 2011. The decision confirmed that the EU industry continues to suffer as a result of Chinese dumping practices.

Using energy in the most efficient way

Glass manufacturing is a high-temperature, energy-using activity which constitutes a constant economic and environmental challenge for the glass industries to keep energy use to a minimum. It provides a natural incentive towards finding the best innovative energy efficient manufacturing processes as energy accounts for a significant share of production costs.

As a result, glass industries have an excellent track record in reducing energy needs and associated CO2. For instance, over the last decades, the energy intensity of glass manufacturing was reduced by 77% [1] and CO2 emissions by 50% even as production rose. This was thanks to process innovation and the systematic use of the best available techniques. As recognized by the European Economic and Social Committee [2], the glass industries have reached existing physical limits in the state of current knowledge and best available technologies are wide-spread. Extensive research programmes are currently being financed by glass manufacturers to get to a new break-through and overcome current technological barriers to reducing energy consumption.

Promoting recycling, ensuring access to raw materials and managing chemicals in the most responsible manner

Glass making requires raw materials. As explained on the ‘What is glass’ section, the most important raw materials used in glass making are sand and recycled glass. The recycling of glass is already a reality in the glass industries although there are variances in the way glass sectors use recycled materials. Exchange of best practices and experiences on recycling are therefore key for glass industries to increase even further the recycling rates of our products.

Access to raw materials is also a common challenge of glass industries when rare earths and / materials for which access is a source of fierce international competition, are used. Precisely because glass industries use very little quantities of such materials, securing supply of these can sometimes be very challenging.

Lastly, all glass manufacturers meet the EU’s strict regulatory framework on chemicals and their use, the REACH regulation. Under this regulation, glass is exempt: so long that glass does not contain any hazardous substance above the concentration limits and that these substances are not available. Glass, as a UVCB (unknown or variable composition and biological) substance, is thus exempt from registration. CPIV, the ancestor of Glass Alliance Europe, developed a full dossier with all glass industries to clarify how the REACH regulation should be applied to glass products.


[1] In 1960, the energy intensity was 35GJ/tonne of glass against 8GJ/tonne today.

[2] European Economic and Social Committee - Opinion on ‘The competitiveness of the European glass and ceramics industry, with particular reference to the EU climate and energy package’ – Official Journal of the EU C317/7 – 23

December 2009.