LCA suggests green superiority of carton packs for UHT milk in Europe
A recent, Europe-wide Life-Cycle Assessment, conducted by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU), for SIG Combibloc has confirmed that, compared to disposable high-density polyethylene and PET bottles, carton packs for UHT milk have a significantly better environmental profile—particularly with respect to CO2 emissions, use of fossil resources, and consumption of primary energy.
In the 1-L format, carton packs generate 34% less CO2, use 56% fewer fossil resources, and consume 30% less primary energy compared to HDPE multilayer bottles; when compared to disposable PET bottles, these figures are 45% for CO2, 57% for fossil resources, and 36% for primary energy.
The comparative, independently verified study of the environmental impact of those UHT milk packaging solutions with the greatest market relevance in Europe “sees the good performance of the renewable main raw material and the resource-efficient use of materials as the key factors contributing to the carton pack’s positive results,” says SIG Combibloc. Carton packs are already manufactured with approximately 75% wood, a sustainable, completely renewable resource.
Comprehensive environmental profile
In the latest LCA, all key factors and processes within the life cycles of the various packaging solutions that are of relevance for the product’s environmental performance were evaluated, beginning with the extraction and refining of the raw material used to make the packaging, through the processes of manufacturing and transporting the finished packages, the packaging of the beverage, and distribution up to the retailing stage, right up to the recycling or disposal of the packaging after use. At each stage of the product life cycle, the key environmental impact categories relevant to the resource and the emission-related categories were investigated and evaluated. In terms of resources, factors such as the consumption of fossil resources, the amount of primary energy used, and the use of nature were looked at. With respect to emissions, it is the criteria relating to climate change measured in CO2, the particulate loading of the air, and the eutrophication and acidification of soils and watercourses that are of interest. At present, the key environmental impact categories worldwide are emission of greenhouse gases, consumption of fossil resources, and use of primary energy sources.
Main criteria: material and quantity
The results of the current study show clearly that the environmental impacts produced by a UHT milk package during the packaging life cycle are determined first and foremost by the material from which the package is manufactured, and how much of the material was used. In this context, the current LCA proved that the carton pack offers significant benefits, with respect to the use of resources and in terms of GHGs. The specific properties and the composite structure of the carton pack have a beneficial effect in nearly all of the environmental impact categories and especially in all the important ones like “consumption of fossil resources,” “use of primary energy sources,” and “CO2-emission/climate change.”
Above all, the resource-efficient use of raw paperboard, which is manufactured using a high fraction of renewable energy, and the low weight of a carton pack contribute significantly to its favorable environmental performance, the LCA suggests. Carton packs use significantly fewer fossil resources than HDPE and PET bottles, because the carton is manufactured with around 75% pulp fibers obtained from wood. For this reason, in the “use of nature” environmental impact category, the carton pack lags behind the packaging solutions manufactured from fossil resource-based raw materials.
In contrast to finite resources, however, with responsible forest management, there can be a constant supply of this renewable raw material. Another positive effect is that with sustainable forest management, wood is carbon-neutral and therefore does not alter the CO2 balance of the atmosphere. The reason for this CO2-neutrality is that while they are growing, trees extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it. When they later burn or decay, they release exactly the same quantity of CO2 that they absorbed during their lifespan.
The results of the LCA conducted by the IFEU have been monitored, critically reviewed, and confirmed by independent LCA and packaging experts Hans-Jürgen Garvens, Dr. Philippe Osset, and Dr. Mercedes Hortal.