Packaging: LCM of Packaging Sustainability
Time: Tuesday, 30/Aug/2011: 9:00am - 10:45am
Session Chair: Gerald Rebitzer
Session Chair: Anne Therese Johnson
Location: Room 2
1st floor


Implementing sustainability in the packaging value chain – The role of a packaging converter

Gerald Rebitzer, David Clark, Fabio Peyer

Amcor, Switzerland

The packaging industry has a long history and an in-depth experience with life cycle approaches, mainly focusing on environmental comparisons of different packaging formats and materials and often with an emphasis on end-of-life operations (reuse, recycling, recovery). This is specifically true for packaging of food and other consumer products, where packaging is the ‘face’ of the product, also and specifically when it comes to environmental credentials. However, the perspective on packaging and the evaluation of its impacts and benefits in the complete value chain have substantially changed during the last years. There is increasing knowledge available on the overall impact, looking at both packaging and packaged product (e.g. food) and their interactions, and also on the factors influencing environmental, social and economic performance throughout the complete value chain (i.e. life cycle). More then ever, brand owners (i.e. packaging users) and converters (i.e. packaging producers) are recognizing that it is not about good or bad packaging from an sustainability point of view, but that it is about continuous improvement as well as the optimum packaging for a given application/market/customer and addressing all actors in the value chain and all relevant impacts and benefits.

At Amcor, a multinational and multi-material packaging leader with more than 300 sites in 43 countries, the aforementioned perspectives and principles are the basis for managing sustainability. The presentation will elaborate on the integration of life cycle assessment into the product design and development process, on using life cycle approaches for optimizing operations and corresponding supply chains and on working with customers to drive real-world improvements. This life cycle thinking is not limited to the environmental pillar or sustainability, but also with an ever increasing focus on questions of social responsibility in the the supply chain. Implementation into internal processes related to sales & marketing, communications, operations will be explained, together with joint activities with Amcor’s customers. Examples from different packaging sectors will be given, relating not only to products, but also relating to life-cycle driven cooperation up- and down the value chain.

Impacts of life cycle assessment results on society – The case of packaging materials in Switzerland

Grégoire Meylan, Andy Spoerri, Roland W. Scholz

ETH Zürich, Switzerland

In 1984, the Swiss Environmental Protection Agency (BAFU) published its first environmental LCA on production and disposal of packaging materials. The LCA was updated in 1991 and 1996 and it served the establishment of ecoinvent, the Switzerland-based centralized life cycle inventory database. The main reason of BAFU for updating the LCA was to adapt it to the actual production technology. While new data was indeed collected and fed into the life cycle inventories, much progress was made in the field of LCA methodology as well (e.g. assumptions, system boundaries). In this contribution, we review how LCA methodology affected results and how results impacted in turn on society.

In the 1984 study, packages for 1 liter of milk made of different materials were compared with respect to four environmental impact categories: energy consumption, emissions into air and water, and solid waste. System boundaries did not include packaging and distribution, a neglect that led to biased results. Following broad media coverage, producers and users of the badly performing package questioned the validity of the Swiss results by referring to similar studies in foreign countries yet with different conclusions. The update of 1991 dealt with this issue by distinguishing background (i.e. packaging materials) and foreground systems (i.e. package production, distribution, consumption). Another impact on society of this first study was its influence on the draft of a legal ordinance on beverage packaging. The definitive version of the ordinance, however, did not rely on LCA results but aimed at limiting littering instead.

Standardization of LCA methodology, a result of intensive research led by the SETAC to tackle the lack of comparability of LCA studies (among them the Swiss studies on packaging materials), is clearly responsible for the methodological differences between the 1991 and 1996 studies.

LCA of packaging materials made recently its way back to Swiss policy. Municipalities are since 2002 financially compensated for collecting and transporting waste packaging glass through a state-decreed anticipated recycling fee on glass bottles. The compensation rates are partly defined according to the environmental life cycle impacts of the various recycling options at hand of the municipality (i.e. new packages, downcycling to foam glass or sand).

Life cycle assessment results impact on all components of society: policy, socio-cultural, knowledge and economic. While defining the goal and scope of an LCA, more attention should be paid to this fact in order to anticipate potentials and risks linked to the results.

Full life cycle assessment versus "streamlined" LCA-based ecodesign tools for the fast-moving consumer goods sector: Pros and cons

Lars Lundquist

Nestlé, Switzerland

Historically the packaging industry has accounted for environmental impacts of packaging through environmental attributes such as packaging weight reduction, recycled content, and recovery rates of used packaging. Although such indicators are relatively easy to measure, they are only proxies for environmental impacts and may not lead to reduced environmental impacts in all cases. Some attributes, such as light weighting and recyclability, may even be in direct conflict with each other and it might be very difficult for a packaging developer to judge which alternative would be the best for a given context. Therefore a decision support tool giving feedback on the environmental consequences of decisions taken in the packaging development process over the entire packaging life cycle is needed.

The appropriate tool for considering environmental impacts over the packaging life cycle is life cycle assessment (LCA). Full LCA tools allow for great flexibility on all levels of a LCA. This flexibility also contributes to some of the draw-backs of clean-slate approaches: they require considerable expertise and are tedious and costly. For these reason full LCA is mainly used as a strategic mid-term decision support for key products within the fast moving consumer goods sector (FMCG).

Systematic use of LCA as decision support would require a “streamlined” approach to LCA allowing rapid assessments to be made by non-experts. For this purpose Nestlé has contributed to the development of PIQET (Packaging Impact Quick Evaluation Tool). PIQET is a LCA-based tool with a tailor-made interface that allows packaging developers to generate LCA feedback in a matter of minutes at very low cost. PIQET is currently used systematically in the Nestlé packaging development process.

This paper discusses the pros and cons of streamlined LCA versus full LCA with respect to requirements for a FMCG company. It is concluded that streamlined LCA is a powerful tool for systematic LCA-based decision making at a stage where design freedom is high and cost for change is low. The streamlining process ensures a consistent approach for LCA to be applied across a company, but does not provide the flexibility, precision and comprehensive treatment of uncertainty and sensitivity of full LCA tools, required for communication of environmental claims to third parties. Therefore, streamlined LCA tools should currently be seen as an affordable and practical compromise between the use of simple environmental attributes and full LCA for internal decision making.

A report format that advances packaging innovation and LCA

Danny Ying Wong1, Tom Gloria2

1Avery Dennison, United States of America; 2Industrial Ecology Consultants, United States of America

Broader and collaborative application of life cycle assessment will be essential to gain meaningful progress toward a more sustainable future. In the product value chain between the manufactured product and the end consumer, there are different players that contribute to the environmental impacts of materials associated with product packaging, shipping and distribution. The complexities of the LCA process and in interpreting traditional LCA results have contributed to a slow adoption and application of the methodology in commercial and industrial sustainability strategies. A simpler and more intuitive report format of output results could advance LCA adoption and application, and promote supply chain collaboration in sustainability.

Avery Dennison’s corporate sustainability group has developed a simplified yet robust reporting format for LCA results. The reporting method and format, called Avery DennisonTM Greenprint, is described in a packaging material scenario that quantifies the environmental benefits of an innovative packaging solution. The report format employs visual metrics to promote intuitive understanding, and presents data in a manner that promotes collaboration and dialogue across supply chain partners and boundaries. The comparative LCA report format is based on six environmental metrics: fossil fuel, trees, water, GHG, energy and waste. This methodology was used to compare two scenarios for a food product in microwavable packaging: a traditional cardboard package for food in a microwavable tray covered with a film; and a film package unit with an embedded innovative plastic valve to allow for steam venting. The LCA results are presented with graphic icons for each metric and the comparative LCA output results are reported as quantitative unit changes (+ or -) of each environmental metric, and as percent reduction/increase (compared to the traditional cardboard packaging).

In the particular comparative scenarios, the innovative packaging design results in the reduction in the weight of packaging materials ten-fold. For a single product campaign consisting of ten million units of one-pound packages, the total reduction in environmental impact of the new packaging design was: 510 barrels of oil-equivalents; 40 billion BTUs of energy; 6.5 million gallons of water; 300 trees; 17 metric tons of solid waste; and 1,400 metric tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalents of greenhouse gases. This paper discusses the value of this method and report format in advancing LCA, promoting innovation, and stimulating meaningful dialogue and collaboration across manufacturing supply chains.

Role of packaging in LCA of food products

Frans Silvenius1, Juha-Matti Katajajuuri1, Kaisa Grönman2, Risto Soukka2, Heta-Kaisa Koivupuro1, Yrjö Virtanen1

1MTT Agrifood Research Finland, Finland; 2Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland

The role of packaging in the LCA of food products was investigated in recent Finnish LCA investigation. Environmental impacts of the entire production and consumption systems of three packed food products (ham, dark bread and a soy based yoghurt like product) and their packaging options were studied. Special focus was laid on studying the amounts of consumer food waste as a function of the package size and the packaging material and on the assessment of the significance of the environmental impacts of the production and management of wasted food in relation to environmental impacts of the production and the end-use of packages. The role of food waste at households in relation to packaging size was investigated by a consumer survey.and end of life management and recycling of consumer food waste and package waste was modelled using four different scenarios. The studied impact classes were climate change, eutrophication and acidification.

The results clearly show that the contribution of packaging to the total environmental impact of food-packaging-system is relatively small. The amount of consumer food waste was found to be a dominating factor when comparing environmental impacts of different food packaging solutions for particular food products, not the production of actual packaging material as such. This means that the environmental impacts of the production chains of both the consumed food product and the amount of food product that is wasted should definitely be included, at least through waste scenarios, when studying and comparing environmental performance of food packaging options in order to get a general view of compared matters and their order of significance. In Soygurt case, the relative significance of packaging was higher, because the product was largely based on water and therefore has relatively lower impacts.

The main result of the project was that packaging actually reduces the environmental impact of the whole food supply chain by preventing wastage of products. Basic functions of packaging are to protect and distribute products, and a package that fails to fulfil these functions properly will lead to great wastage of food due to damages of the packed products, thus causing bigger and totally unnecessary negative environmental impacts.

The global warming potential analysis of beverage: Which is the best option?

Jorgelina Pasqualino1,2, Montse Meneses1,3, Francesc Castells1

1Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Spain; 2Catalonia Institute for Energy Research, Spain; 3Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain

The world population consumes ever-increasing amounts of all types of products, however the consumers have fewer opportunities to use products without generating packaging waste, leading to large amounts of solid waste. This study assesses the environmental impact of the commonest packaging options on the Spanish market for juice, beer and water. The main objectives of this study are to evaluate the Global warming potential of the most common packaging options for beverage products (juice, beer, and water), and to evaluate the contribution of packaging to the environmental profile of a product’s life cycle.

The disposal methods considered are landfilling, incineration and recycling, and the packaging types are aseptic carton, glass, HDPE, aluminium can and PET. The packaging materials and sizes found on the market have been analysed for each of the products and range from 200 ml to 8 litres.

Recycling was found to be the most environmentally friendly disposal option for all the packaging alternatives compared, and landfilling was considered the second best option. The packaging options with the lowest environmental impacts were aseptic carton and plastic packaging (for sizes greater than 1 litre). The life cycle stages considered are the beverage production, transport, packaging production and final disposal. The influence of beverage production on the life cycle varies according to the type of beverage. The results of the evaluation of the entire life cycle show that the impact of beer packaging is similar to the impact of beer production and these are the highest impact stages in the life cycle of beer. Packaging was found to have the highest environmental impact in the life cycles of water and juice, while the beverages production is insignificant. The final impact of the product is highly dependent on the packaging weight and shape, which tends to differ from brand to brand. In this study an average transport distance of 100 km was estimated, but obviously, the longer the distance, the greater the impact of transport. The consumption of local products over those that require transport is therefore recommended in order to minimise total environmental impact as much as possible.

Society should be encouraged to use the packaging option that requires the least energy and the fewest natural resources and has the lowest emission levels possible. Thus, making information available to the general public is very important if the environmental effects arising from the management of these wastes are to be reduced.

An NGO perspective on the best use and limitations of life cycle analysis to improve the environmental sustainability of packaging

Anne Therese Johnson

GreenBlue Institute, United States of America

Over the past six years, the awareness of life cycle assessment as a methodology to inform a variety of business decisions around environment and risk has made quantum leaps in the U.S. which has traditionally lagged behind Europe. There are now numerous initiatives⎯from the Sustainability Consortium to the Consumer Goods Forum⎯that are driving the use of life cycle assessment within global supply chains. As a fundamentally technical methodology that is increasingly promoted and used by non-technical users, an array of concerns is emerging from an NGO perspective.

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) is a project of the sustainability non-profit GreenBlue. With more than 200 member companies from across the packaging supply chain, the SPC exemplifies the growing interest in applied life cycle analysis (LCA). It has been on the forefront of providing education and industry case studies to raise the level of knowledge of LCA as a practical and informative tool supporting a systems approach to environmental analysis. As part of applied life cycle thinking, the Coalition developed the COMPASS Design software as a simplified life cycle tool intended to provide multi-attribute environmental profiles to packaging designers and engineers early in the packaging design process. One of the objectives of this tool is to encourage the use by non-technical audiences and lower the hurdles to the practice of environmental evaluation as part of day-to-day business practice.

GreenBlue has also been a staunch advocate for data transparency and accessibility and an informed critic on the limitations of the LCA methodology to address certain environmental or human health issues and product characteristics given the current state of the science and data. The lack of awareness outside the LCA community of the limitations of data and how data uncertainty carries forward through analysis is of growing concern as companies increasingly use LCA for comparative assertions and eco-labels play an ever growing role with environmental policy makers and private certifiers. Finally, of particular relevance to packaging is the disconnect between the use of a product or packaging level LCA and the priorities and objectives of broader materials management systems that policymakers in developed countries are seeking to develop.

This presentation will review these issues and the potential business implications when the role of life cycle assessment is not properly understood.