Taking glass even lighter
Belu and Rawlings have worked together to make a mineral water bottle even lighter. David Balhuizen and Tom Wood explain their partnership
David Balhuizen, head of operations, Belu
As a producer of bottled water, Belu has a responsibility to make sure its operations are as environmentally sound as possible. Despite being a small social enterprise, we pride ourselves on our commitment to innovation. Since 2010, we have managed to reduce our carbon impact (CO2e per litre of product sold) by 22 per cent. We had to invest big (since 2009 we have invested £48,145 in carbon off-setting projects) but in doing so the benefits to the environment have also been impressive.
Our most recent innovation has been the development of the lightest weight glass bottle on the market for mineral water, which we have produced in partnership with glass specialists Rawlings, known as ‘Ethical Glass’. Our packaging is the most crucial aspect of our product to address, as it makes up 75 per cent of our carbon footprint. Glass is an energy intensive product to produce, so creating a lighter weight bottle means we can reduce the amount of glass we need to produce, reduce the weight of goods on vehicles and transport them with less energy. In the first year using ‘Ethical Glass’, we will save 850,000 kg of glass – equivalent to 2.1 million wine bottles.
By undertaking this journey in partnership with Rawlings – which has been highly committed to the cause from the outset – we have had the opportunity to pool our expertise and demonstrate our dedication to doing better business. The Ethical Glass bottles are 18 per cent lighter than previous Belu bottles, and reduce our footprint by 11 per cent.
Glass can be considered a more sustainable option than other materials, such as PET for example. First, it is 100 per cent natural – made from the age-old combination of sand, soda ash and limestone. It is an inert material that does not react with the food and drink it carries, and is able to preserve taste and vitamins without any chemicals. Finally, when a glass bottle reaches the end of its life, it is 100 per cent recyclable – it is melted down into what is known as cullet and used to produce more glass products. Even when it ends up outside the recycling stream, due to its natural composition and inability to decompose, it does not leach harmful materials into the environment. Glass only forms 2 per cent of the 7.8 million tonnes of carbon emissions the soft drinks industry emits.
At Belu we believe our impact should extend beyond profits and the planet – but also to people. That is why we donate 100 per cent of our profits to clean water charity partner WaterAid, and a a royalty of 0.3 pence from each Ethical Glass bottle purchased will also go to the charity. WaterAid has to date received over £365,000 from profits and donations from Belu and partners.
Furthermore, we have made the conscious decision not to keep the bottle exclusive to Belu, but make it available for purchase by the rest of the soft drinks sector. We believe that the path to sustainability should be one of collaboration, not competition. This way, we aim to have a positive impact on the entire industry.
We don’t think we should leave pushing boundaries in the realm of sustainability to the big boys. We hope big businesses will see our example, and follow suit. After all, if a large beverage producer were to choose to purchase our Ethical Glass – an even more dramatic impact could be made not only on the environment, and the sustainability of the industry, but in the countries that benefit from WaterAid’s vital work.
Tom Wood, managing director, Rawlings
Rawlings started from humble beginnings in 1850 washing and selling re-useable bottles. So you can see that sustainability is, and always has been at the heart of our values, and we are extremely proud of that. Since this time, Rawlings has developed and grown into its strong position today providing industry leading, expert support to a variety of well-known brands.
The expertise we have in-house has been fundamental to our development as a glass specialist, as this has allowed us to provide, not only an exemplary service but a bespoke service, tailored to individual customer’s needs, which is exactly what Belu were in need of.
Rawlings reputation for quality and strong heritage of sustainability, led to us being selected, to deliver on the challenge of developing the lightest weight glass bottle for mineral water in the UK.
The Ethical Bottle was an exciting project, because its success would lead to a much wider, positive environmental and social impact. The project would help lower the industry’s carbon footprint, as the bottle is not being solely retained by Belu.
It was therefore critical that we got the manufacturing partner right. OI was the perfect partner, because it too has a strong reputation for sustainable practices and really bought into what we were trying to achieve.
As part of the project, we have simplified the supply chain, so the Ethical Glass bottle is principally made in Harlow, Essex. This has allowed us to reduce the overall transport miles of both the packaging and final product.
Although the bottle contains a proportion of recycled glass, it is the light weighting process where we see the most benefit, as it means that much less energy and CO2 are used. Around five or six years ago, light weighting was a really hot topic but it has gone off radar a bit recently. Since then technology has improved, and we believe the bottles could be made even lighter now without losing any strength.
This bottle isn’t stronger or weaker than a traditional bottle. It is of equal strength, in terms of its pressure tolerance. Being light weight isn’t necessarily weaker - it is about the manufacturing process - as any problems are not as well hidden with lower glass content. OI has done a fantastic job in getting the manufacturing process right and quality control in place, ensuring that we did not generate excess manufacturing waste.
The glass industry does have an impact on the environment, which is why sustainability is, and always has been a core principle at Rawlings. We are constantly looking at how we can improve our own day to day operations as well as our credentials through the customers, suppliers and partners we choose to work with. Working with Belu has put us on a journey to make our industry even more sustainable, and we want to continue to encourage glass manufacturers to challenge their environmental footprint.
Our view is that glass is more sustainable as a beverage packaging vehicle than plastics such as PET and HDPE. For plastics, the main benefit is that it is easy to transport as it is light. However, the full lifecycle analysis paints a different picture. From a recycling perspective, glass is better as it can be infinitely recycled. Glass can also be reused – Rawlings is currently working on a beer bottle that can be reused, which wouldn’t be possible with plastics.
Finally, we must remember that consumers love glass. Glass is totally inert so is the healthiest option, and of course gives a premium look and feel to any product.