The European glass industry is made up of a number of distinct sectors, manufacturing products for a wide range of uses. The sectors are container glass which accounts for about 60% of output, flat glass (30%), tableware, fibres for reinforcing and insulating applications, special glass, and glass frits used in glazes for ceramic products.
Total production in EU27 in 2007 is estimated to have reached 37.55 million tonnes, up on the 36.43 million tonnes produced in 2006. This represented about 30% of total world glass production. It was worth in the region of €39 billion (about €38.5 billion in 2006), representing about 32% of the value of total world production. Numbers employed in 2006 is estimated at just under 237 000. 70% of all glass products are produced in just 5 member States: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK.
The glass industry's is characterised by the existence of several large EU‑based companies competing on world markets, economies of scale, the quality of its products, its capacity for technological innovation, and its skilled labour force. The production process is energy intensive. High start‑up costs and tied distribution channels in some sub‑sectors may limit innovation potential, production facilities are capital intensive and require long investment cycles, and in some sub‑sectors, products ranges are very diverse making it difficult to obtain a sufficiently high production volume to secure profit margins.
The industry innovates through increasing demand for advanced and specialised products, creating new markets. Process R & D has resulted to improvements in the field of energy saving and environmental protection, a switch from fossil to non-fossil energy, and glass fibre substituting metals and wood via composites.
The main challenges include global competition and consolidation, competition from low‑cost countries, downstream bargaining power and increasing cost‑cutting demands, production over-capacity in some sub‑sectors, energy prices and lack of security of supply, substitution by other products, third country trade barriers, counterfeiting of European designs.
About 80% of output is traded with other Member States. The figure for extra-EU trade is much lower, and EU exports were double the tonnage of imports into the EU in 2003. By 2007, this had changed to a situation whereby the EU (27) was a net importer, due principally to an increase of imports from outside the EU. There are many countries which the EU glass industry sees as having trading potential where there are tariff barriers.
In addition, there are a number of non-tariff barriers, such as the introduction of compulsory testing and certification schemes beginning to be seen, and the bans of imports of certain products into countries where there is a strong domestic production. Other non-tariff barriers have been reported in several countries.
In international and bi-lateral negotiations, an important issue for the Commission is to push for the elimination of peak tariffs in third countries, where EU glass manufacturers see potential for their products.
The glass production processes are energy intensive, although with differences in intensity between the different sub-sectors. The industry has every incentive to reduce its energy consumption, and has made significant progress. However, glass manufacturing technology is at a mature stage, and further savings in energy consumption are likely to be limited. Certain sectors could increase their use of cullet (treated glass scrap), but this is not always possible for technical reasons. On the other hand demand in the flat glass and insulating glass sectors can be expected to grow once EU provisions on the energy performance of buildings starts to have an effect.
The industry falls within the scope of several pieces of environmental legislation, notably the Directives on emissions trading [162 KB] , IPPC [108 KB] , REACH , packaging and packaging waste , end-of-life vehicles [135 KB] , restrictions on hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment [115 KB] , waste electrical and electronic equipment [287 KB] , and on plastic materials intended to come into contact with foodstuffs [357 KB] .
Other issues related to environment are associated with wastes: process waste is usually recycled back to the furnace, but there is a limit on the amount that can be recycled in sectors such as flat glass and glass fibre for quality reasons. In the special glass sector, where the biggest product sector has traditionally been glass for TV screens and computer monitors and for cathode ray tubes, recycling has been more difficult, but it is much less of an issue now that these products are virtually no longer produced in the EU and their flat screen replacements are mainly produced in south east Asia. The issue of waste for the fibre sector is that when fibre becomes waste, it is in the form of composite material from which it can not be separated and which currently can not be recycled. Along with other composite materials manufacturers, the fibre industry is exploring ways of recycling, but the economic costs are prohibitive at this stage.
One of the principal issues for the container glass industry is recycling, since glass packaging is infinitely recyclable, and this can affect its popularity vis-à-vis competing materials. Emissions to air from the glass production process are in the form of particulates, oxides of sulphur and oxides of nitrogen. Emissions are fairly homogeneous in the melting phase of all branches of the glass industry, but tend to vary widely as far as downstream processing is concerned. These arise from processes such as application of coatings, or from secondary processing operations such as cutting or polishing. Such emissions are covered by IPPC, and in the best available techniques reference document BREF adopted by the Commission in December 2001, now under revision.
There are two items of legislation, which are not of an environmental nature, but which refer directly to glass. One is Council Directive 69/493/EC of 15 December 1969 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to crystal glass. This sets out four categories of crystal according to lead content, terminology and labelling, and test methods.
The other is framework Directive 89/109/EC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs in essence lays down principles governing the manufacture and the placing on the market of materials and articles coming into contact with foodstuffs. One of the materials mentioned specifically by name is glass. The objective is to ensure that such materials and articles do not transfer substances to the foodstuffs in quantities which would endanger human health or alter their composition to an unacceptable degree. Glass is specifically covered, and in particular, the packaging glass and tableware sectors will be affected. The Directive was amended by Regulation (EC) N° 1935/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 October 2004 on materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs. This amendment tightened the traceability requirements.