The Comeback Kid: How a new bottle helped tell the circular story of glass

British Glass celebrating glass: How Absolut's comeback bottle helped tell the circular story of glass

Next time you pick up a clear glass bottle or jar, take a few moments to notice how pure, smooth and free from imperfections it is. Then consider that is has been made with thousands of broken pieces of old bottles and jars which, together with sand, soda ash and limestone, are melted together to make the perfect glass container before you.

When the glass bottle or jar in your hand is empty and you recycle it, it too will become part of something new. This process continues ad infinitum with no loss of quality, no matter how many times any piece of glass is recycled. It’s a simple, everyday miracle that makes glass one of the most sustainable and versatile materials on the planet.

World-renowned vodka brand Absolut thought it was about time this process was celebrated and decided to find a way of making the recycled content element of their famous bottles visible. “We wanted the story of glass to inspire consumers to keep on recycling it and to live a more circular lifestyle that has less impact on the planet”, says Henrik Ellström, Director Brand Strategy & Innovation at Absolut.

“By making the recycled glass element visible in our bottle, we would be revealing just what a brilliant, environmentally-friendly material glass is in a powerful and arresting way, while tapping into the trend for minimising waste and recycling existing resources for a healthier, more sustainable way of life”.

As with all Absolut bottles, the new bottle contains more than 41% recycled glass – a high figure for clear glass spirit bottles. Unlike coloured bottles which can contain up to 90% mixed recycled glass, only clear glass can be recycled into new premium, clear glass spirit bottles.

Absolut teamed up with the communication agency Drama Queen that developed a design and campaign concept. The result was the Absolut Comeback bottle, which featured actual pieces of broken, recycled glass in its design, to symbolise the 41% of recycled content in each bottle and to encourage consumers to always recycle their bottle after they’ve enjoyed the vodka inside.

The challenge to turn the concept into reality was then passed onto leading glass manufacturer Ardagh Group who called in their European design team to work on the project. Product Designer John Oczabruk explains how they did it:

“Because this is a completely original bottle design, we first needed to create a sculpture by attaching pieces of recycled Absolut bottle glass to a 3D print of an Absolut bottle, to maintain the bottle’s iconic look and shape. This was like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle as we had to choose the right shape of glass piece to fit into each place.

“We then used a technique known as reverse engineering to digitally scan the sculpture into the Ardagh modelling system and reconstruct the design to work smoothly in production”.

Next came the problem of how to automate a process that would enable such an unusual shaped bottle to be manufactured. Ardagh’s usual quality control equipment is designed to pick up defects within the glass, but on this occasion, recognisable pieces of recycled glass were integral to the actual design, so a special inspection process had to be used.

“We had to spend time making sure the design was smoothed and at a consistent depth of glass throughout while allowing the ‘recycled pieces’ to retain their defined appearance so they would sail through the production process” says John.

The result is a bottle that not only celebrates the circular nature of glass but carries a serious message with it too. Henrik Ellström comments: “We believe that a glass bottle must have a second life; the new limited-edition bottle is a pure manifestation of this belief. We hope that our new circular living campaign will inspire more people to use creativity to waste less.”

The impact of the bottle is already clear. With six industry awards already in the bag and a shortlisted finalist in four others, the Absolut Comeback bottle is living up to its promise to tell the circular story of glass in a new and innovative way.