Glass Industry Supply Chain
The UK glass industry (all sectors) produces an estimated 4 million tonnes of glass per year, divided as follows in the generalised subsectors of Container, Flat, Fibre and Domestic (including Crystal and Special Glass)
Production of containers for the food and drinks industry, glazing in construction and the automotive industry account for around 90% of glass produced in the UK.
Container glass, mainly bottles and jars, accounts for around 60% of all UK glass production. The majority of the container glass produced in the UK is clear.
The UK container industry presently comprises six manufacturers producing a total of 2.3 million tonnes of container glass in 2010.
The flat glass industry, fuelled by demand for building and automotive glass, represents the second largest sector in the UK glass manufacturing industry.
Currently, three companies produce flat glass in the UK and annual domestic production in 2010 was approximately 1.3 million tonnes; the majority going towards glazing products for buildings including laminated, self-cleaning, coated low-emissivity, silvered and other glasses; the rest used in automotive applications. Production of clear float glass constitutes the single largest product and unlike container glass, is usually used in long-term applications.
There are three fibreglass manufacturers in the UK producing two main products. Fibre has over 40,000 different applications, including building insulation products (for energy savings and fire (thermal) protection), reinforcement of plastics and rubber, electronics and wall coverings.
Glass fibre is an extremely versatile material. Drawn as a continuous thread it can be manufactured into fabric yarn which is fire resistant.
Domestic Glass / Special Glass
Domestic glass production covers both the special and domestic sectors. Although, currently the UK has no volume producer of domestic glass but several small manufacturers producing giftware from either lead crystal or common soda-lime glass. Typically they operate small pot furnaces melting a few tonnes per week.
Special Glass covers an extremely diverse group - lighting, oven hobs, optical, medical and scientific. Production capacities range from large 200 tonne per day furnaces to specialist melters producing a few kg per week.
Sand, limestone and soda ash are the principal virgin raw materials used by the industry and recycled cullet is used as much as possible. The amount of glass recycled in 2010 was 1.6 million tonnes, The container industry recycled a record 660,000 tonnes of cullet back into new bottles and jars. Remelting waste glass uses 25% less energy than making glass from raw materials. The industry is not a large user of water, average consumption being slightly in excess of 1.0m3 for each tonne of glass produced.
Glass manufacture is an energy-intensive process - 80% natural gas which is used to fire the high-temperature furnaces - and because it represents a significant cost to the industry, it has worked for decades to improve energy efficiency. Over the past 3 decades energy consumption per tonne of glass produced has halved. The amount of energy required to melt a tonne of glass has fallen to 1.47 MWh.
As the industry can recycle almost all of its own rejected production, very little solid waste is produced. Furnace rebuilds produce a large amount of refractory waste but this in turn can be recycled and a typical furnace has a life in excess of 10 years
The oldest examples of glass are Egyptian beads dating from 12,000 BC.