IFEU life-cycle assessment compares impacts of long-life food packaging

Chopped Tomatoes_iconsIn a life-cycle assessment carried out by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU), the environmental impacts of the main long-life food packaging solutions in current use have been compared. The results compared to food metal cans, glass jars, retortable pouches and plastic pots, the carton pack has the best environmental performance. Compared to the other packaging solutions included in the study, using carton packs can save CO2 emissions by up to 63 per cent, and consumption of fossil resources by up to 69 per cent. According to the study, the main drivers behind the environmental impacts of a packaging solution are the material used, and the quantity of the material.

Michael Hecker, Head of Group Environment, Health & Safety at SIG Combibloc, says, “The market for long-life packaged foods is changing all the time – in addition to new products, from time to time new packaging solutions also come onto the market, or existing packaging systems are modified. With this most recent life-cycle assessment we’ve commissioned, we aimed to take these developments into account and obtain solid information, based on the latest life-cycle assessment findings, about the environmental impacts of the main packaging solutions currently used for long-life foods such as soups, sauces, tomato products, vegetables and ready-meals. So in addition to our aseptic and retortable carton packs, the study also looked at food metal cans, glass jars, plastic pots and retortable pouches”.

For this purpose, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) in Heidelberg (Germany) was commissioned to analyse and evaluate in a Europe-wide life-cycle assessment the environmental impacts of the various packaging systems in accordance with the ISO standard 14040ff stipulated for life-cycle assessments. The independent IFEU Institute is one of Europe’s top environmental research institutes, also working for, among others, government ministries, international environmental and conservation organisations, Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency, and various companies and corporations.

In the life-cycle assessment, all key environmentally relevant factors and processes that come into play across the life cycle of the packaging system were critically examined and evaluated: beginning with the extraction and processing of the raw material used to manufacture the packaging, through the processes of manufacturing and transporting the packages, the packaging of the food, and distribution to retailers, as well as the recycling or disposal of the packaging after use. This type of evaluation is the only assessment method that examines the environmental profile of a packaging as a whole, rather than just focusing on a single aspect.

In the current life-cycle assessment, all key environmental impact categories that are relevant to the resource are investigated and assessed, along with the emission-related categories. In relation to the utilisation of resources, for instance, these categories include consumption of fossil resources and primary energy used, as well as impact on abiotic resources. In respect of emissions, it is the criteria relating to CO2 emission and the associated climate change, the impact on the ozone layer, transport intensity, particulate matter emission, summer smog and the eutrophication and acidification of soils and watercourses that are of interest.
Michael Hecker, says, “The findings of the latest life-cycle assessment, which was monitored and critically reviewed by independent LCA and packaging experts, confirm the results of a study we had commissioned in 2009 on the life-cycle assessment of long-life food packaging. And the results go further than that, because even when compared to improved or new packaging solutions that are now available to the global food industry, in environmental aspects too carton packs are the ideal packaging solution”.

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