Rediscovering Glass Packaging

Manufacturers shouldn't overlook glass when selecting packaging materials.


Lewis D. Andrews, Jr.

For more than two hundred years, medicines have been packaged in glass. Great-grandparents can remember when brands like Singleton's eye ointment, Swaim's Panacea, Turlington's Original Balsam, and Daffy's Elixir were found in medicine cabinets everywhere. Most of these patent medicines were known by the shape of their containers—and almost all of these containers were made from handblown glass. For as long as medicines have been sold, people have associated pharmaceuticals with their distinct glass packaging.

In recent years, however, the relationship between pharmaceuticals and glass packaging has changed dramatically because of shifting market forces and consumer preferences. Glass is now used as a packaging material primarily for food and beverage items. However, it remains a viable packaging option for many pharmaceutical and medical products as well.

A key advantage of glass packaging is its ability to maintain a product's freshness for a long period of time. A long shelf life is important to consumers and retailers alike, and for manufacturers it is one of the most significant factors in the package selection process. Another advantage is that light-sensitive contents can be protected by amber- or green-colored glass.

Manufacturers also do not have to worry about whether a product will react chemically with a glass container. In addition to being chemically inert, glass possesses other characteristics that are important for pharmaceutical and medical product manufacturers. Glass packaging provides impermeability so that diffusion or leakage is not possible unless the container is inadequately sealed. Glass can be sealed in a variety of ways to suit all kinds of products; it is strong, odor resistant, and recyclable.

Glass provides a hygienic container: First, the degree of sterility on the inside of a new glass container is significantly higher than that which can be achieved by any of the usual commercial processes of washing or sterilizing. Second, if glass becomes dirty or contaminated, the hardness and smoothness of its surface and its chemical inertness make cleaning easy. Third, glass can easily withstand high-temperature sterilization—an important characteristic for pharmaceutical packaging.

According to a study by Frost & Sullivan (New York City), the U.S. market for medical and pharmaceutical packaging will grow to $1.95 billion by the year 2001, and a significant percentage of that growth will be in glass. Some experts believe that glass packaging will hold a 15% share of the revenue. Advanced container lightweighting and enhanced surface treatments have helped glass hold its own in today's market.

Glass is also compatible with innovative labeling technologies. Pressure-sensitive, heat-transfer, and applied ceramic labeling all provide a no-label look, while roll-fed paper and polystyrene labels and shrink films—long employed in the pharmaceutical industry as a security device—provide 360° of graphic coverage. Pressure-sensitive labeling usually consists of inks printed on clear film, allowing consumers to see the product through the label. Most plastic containers are unable to take advantage of these modern labeling techniques.

Glass packaging has been used with new product categories such as new age beverages and drinks enhanced with nutraceuticals. Consumers still see resplendent glass packages showcasing the finest perfumes, the most distinguished wines, and the smoothest microbrewed beers. And drug makers should take note that glass remains the package of choice for many medicines and pharmaceuticals.

Lewis D. Andrews, Jr., is president of the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI). For more information, contact GPI at 1627 K St. NW, Ste. 800, Washington, DC 20006; or call 202/887-4850.



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