Resource Efficiency - Prevention

By 2050, according to the European Commission and other respected scientific sources, if we follow our current path we will be extracting five times more resources than we do today. This is clearly not sustainable in a world where 9 billion people will depend on planet Earth for food, water and a place to live! To this end, Europe has embraced the “Resource Efficient Europe” initiative and is striving to move towards an increasingly circular economy.

Resource efficiency is about doing more with less, using resources sustainably and minimising our impact on the environment. Our biggest consumption impacts on the environment come from food, buildings, transport and from the many “products” that are part of our daily lives. These are the areas that need to change the most and flexible packaging already plays an important role helping to achieve this. The following areas give more details as to how flexible packaging does this.

How Resource Efficient is Flexible Packaging?

IFEU, an independent research organisation, was asked to evaluate 2 scenarios: 1) if all flexible (food) packaging was replaced by a non-flexible pack and 2) if all non-flexible packaging was replaced by a flexible pack alternative.

The results of this study performed in 2014 showed that in the first scenario, an additional 23 million tons of packaging would be required (+67%). Even if all this additional non-flexible packaging was recycled (i.e. a recycling rate of 100%), the carbon and water footprints would increase by more than 5%.

However, if all non-flexible packaging was replaced by flexible packaging, as in scenario 2, this would prevent a massive 26.5 million tons of packaging from entering the waste stream. This would represent a reduction of 77% of the weight of packaging needing to be recycled or recovered at the end of life when it becomes waste.

In addition to this resource efficient use of materials, the net effect on the environmental impact would be to reduce the carbon and water footprints by almost 40% … and that was assuming no recycling (37% energy recovery only) of the flexible packaging.

To verify both the approach and the magnitude of these results, a 3rd party LCA agency, Carbotech AG, was asked to review them. Carbotech confirmed that, when using their own data sets, their results confirmed the IFEU findings and the main conclusion that flexible packaging is very resource efficient.

Please click here to see more details about the 2014 IFEU study.

Please click here to see the resulting infographic.

Resource efficient packaging: what does it mean?

Another study still performed by IFEU in 2016 has produced a definition for resource efficient packaging and also a method for assessing the resource efficiency of packaging, using a case study involving flexible packaging.

In the new study, a resource efficient package is defined as a packaging solution which is combining the minimized use of material and energy throughout its lifecycle with the minimized amount of material losses (meaning not recycled).

To assist this definition, a three-metric model was proposed to assess the resource efficiency of packaging:

  • Cumulated Energy Demand (fossil and nuclear energy) throughout the lifecycle
  • Cumulated Raw Material Demand (including energy resources and feedstock material) throughout the lifecycle
  • Waste to final disposal (landfill or incineration i.e. what is not recycled)

As an example, the study is applying the model to a laminated flexible pouch packaging solution for 460ml long-life pasta sauce. This is compared to three alternative, non-flexible packaging systems: a glass jar, a tin can and a plastic pot. The results reveal that the foil pouch solution (taking into account the complete packaging system including also secondary and tertiary packaging) was more resource efficient in all three metrics than the alternative solutions.

For the model it was assumed the pouch had a zero recycling rate as a worst-case scenario. Indeed, recycling solutions for flexible packaging already exist and will be further developed. This would lead to even more resource efficiency.

Please click here to see more details about the 2016 IFEU study.