Understanding Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Flexible Packaging

For over 20 years the packaging sector has been required to examine its environmental footprint and to continuously reduce it, recycling the used packaging materials for future use wherever possible. To do this, the packaging sector has effectively used the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method to quantify and track progess. This also required the industry to produce accurate data for both the packaging materials and the processes used to convert them into packaging.

However, there has always been a belief with in the packaging sector that the environmental impact of packaging has been overstated relative to the impact of the product and this appears to now have been conclusively demonstrated by an ever increasing number of full LCA studies done on food products. These LCA’s help to create a full picture of the environmental impact of a product from “field to fork” and provides insights as to the relative contribution to the environmental impacts from the food or the packaging during each part of the products journey along the supply chain though to disposal.

To better understand the environmental impacts due to flexible packaging in different packaging applications, FPE had a number of full LCA studies carried out by independent 3rd party LCA specialist institutes. The three main objectives of these studies were to:

  • Understand of the environmental impact of the flexible packaging with respect to its function within the life cycle of the product
  • Quantify the contribution of the flexible packaging to increasing the use of that resource efficiently: e.g. through the prevention of spoilage of the product and efficient pack design
  • Show how the flexible packaging adds value by helping consumers to consume more sustainably e.g. by considering aspects like consumption occasions and portion sizes and contrasting these benefits with the increase in environmental impact due to the packaging

Conclusion: The different LCA studies clearly show that the flexible packaging actively contributes to minimising the overall environmental impact of the product by reducing spoilage, over consumption and/or by facilitating more sustainable lifestyles.

Packaging LCA Best Practise Study

FPE has undertaken several LCA studies to demonstrate the strong sustainability case for flexible packaging as a resource efficient packaging solution. These reports have highlighted the positive attributes such as excellent product-to-pack ratios which can be achieved, as well as the proven protective and economic advantages derived from flexible packaging.

In a study, produced under the Life Cycle Initiative - a joint organisation of UNEP and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) – which consolidates and summarises the results of existing LCA research on the environmental performance of packaging in order to demonstrate the value of applying lifecycle thinking to evaluate environmental impacts for food and beverage packaging.

Download the UNEP SETAC report here.