Food Lifecycle Studies

Environmental benefits of pouches for different food products

New study confirms environmental benefits of using pouches for some food products
A life cycle assessment study, carried out by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (ifeu), shows flexible pouches are better packaging options, in terms of environmental performance, for olives and pasta sauce.

The new study, which investigates the environmental performance and impacts of multi-material pouches used for pasta sauce and olives, and compares them with alternative packaging systems, has found flexible pouches offer clear advantages.

The study, commissioned by Flexible Packaging Europe, was conducted by the ifeu institute in Heidelberg, Germany using a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach. It was based on the market situation in Europe in 2020. Alternative packaging systems examined were glass jars and steel cans, which are commonly used for these products in Europe. The entire packaging systems were considered, including primary, secondary and tertiary packaging.

In the comparison, the advantages of pouches were underlined in almost all impact categories of the LCA. In the category Climate Change (carbon footprint) the flexible pouches showed a more than 60% lower impact than the rigid alternatives. The only exception was aquatic eutrophication, the impacts of which stem from more cardboard used in secondary packaging, which is necessary to achieve enough stability for transportation.

Commenting on the study, the ifeu project manager Frank Wellenreuther said, “From an environmental viewpoint, the choice of multi-material pouches for the packaging of pasta sauce or olives on the European market is recommended when compared to the alternative packaging systems commonly used. By using LCA techniques it is clearly shown that these flexible packaging formats are less impactful on the environment and their potential can be further enhanced with higher recycling rates.”

Despite the common focus on recycling as the main sustainability indicator for packaging, the study found that the end-of-life of the packaging does not always play a major role on the overall environmental performance. The hypothetical application of a 100% collection for recycling rate, to some extent, reduced the impact for all packaging systems, without changing the ranking order between these packaging systems.

The study’s findings show clearly that flexible packaging is an effective route to minimising environmental impacts. In addition, the entire value chain is actively working on its recycling performance and making flexible packaging even more sustainable.

More details of the LCA are available in the Executive Summary.

Former Life Cycle Assements

Prior to the latest Pouch LCA, FPE had a number of full LCA studies carried out by independent 3rd party LCA specialist institutes to better understand the environmental impacts due to flexible packaging in different packaging applications. 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, overconsumption 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.