The EU is the world's biggest producer of glass with a market share of around one third of total world production. The industry is known for the quality of its products, its capacity for technological innovation, and its skilled labour force. In 2012, the sector employed 100 thousand people. The European Commission aims to enhance the industry’s competitiveness.
The glass sector covers
- container glass (60% of output in tonnage terms but about 54% in terms of value)
- flat glass (about 30% in both tonnage and value)
- domestic glass, special glass, and reinforcement glass fibres
Why the glass industry is important
- Employment - in 2012, the sector employed 100 thousand people
- Link to other sectors - the industry is interlinked with other sectors such as construction, automotive, domestic, and leisure
Challenges faced by the glass industry
- Crisis - glass production in the EU was severely impacted by the economic crisis. Germany is the EU’s biggest producer (one-fifth of the volume produced), followed by France, Spain and Italy.
- Trade - the main challenges include competition, downstream bargaining power, energy prices and a lack of security of supply, substitution by other products, non-EU country trade barriers, and the counterfeiting of European designs.
Competitiveness and innovation in the EU glass industry
- Competitiveness – the EU glass industry is represented by large EU‑based companies. The production process is energy intensive and the manufacturers have to face high start‑up costs and tied distribution channels. Production facilities are also capital intensive and require long investment cycles.
- Innovation – process research and development has resulted in improvements to energy savings and environmental protection, a switch from fossil to non-fossil energy, and glass fibre substituting metals and wood through composites.
- Export and import - about 80% of the glass produced is traded within the EU.
- Trade barriers – non-EU countries with strong glass production have been introducing non-tariff trade barriers such as compulsory testing and certification schemes. The Commission pushes for the elimination of peak tariffs in non-EU countries important for EU glass manufacturers.
Sustainability of the EU glass industry
- Energy efficiency - glass production processes are energy intensive and the industry aims to decrease its energy consumption
- Waste - process waste is usually recycled back to the furnace, but for quality reasons, there is a limit on the amount that can be recycled in sectors such as flat glass and glass fibre
- Recycling - one of the principal issues for the container glass industry is recycling. Glass packaging is infinitely recyclable and this can positively affect its popularity
- Emissions - are covered by the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) and in the best available techniques reference document BREF (4 MB) adopted by the Commission in December 2001. It is now under revision
- Legislation - the industry falls under the Directives on emissions trading, IED, REACH , packaging and packaging waste, end-of-life vehicles, and restrictions on hazardous substances
- Cumulative cost assessment (CCA) of the EU ceramics and glass industry (2017)
- Glass manufacturing BREF (4 MB)
- 2014 glass industry competitiveness study
- Communication and staff working document on energy prices and costs in the EU (2014)