• Sustainability

Environmental advantages of flexible packaging backed up by new LCA study

A recent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study has provided significant evidence on the environmental advantages of flexible packaging in almost all environmental impact categories, including carbon footprint. This study provides valuable scientific insights into the impact of multi-material flexible pouches in comparison to other commonly used packaging formats.

We believe that by bringing additional scientific evidence the LCA is helpful at a time when we are reviewing how we make the most sustainable packaging solutions. Also, at Huhtamaki we believe that facts and evidence should be at the foundation for decision-making and regulation.

New study on environmental impacts of flexible pouches

The LCA was conducted by the highly respected German-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (ifeu), commissioned by Flexible Plastics Europe (FPE). It compared the environmental impacts of flexible pouches with glass jars and steel cans for pasta sauces and olives in the European market. Flexible pouches showed clear demonstrable environmental advantages over the two other formats. For example, with a 400g content a flexible pouch had a 63% lower climate change impact than a glass jar and a 69% lower impact than a steel can.

This study highlights the fact that lightweight flexible packaging is resource efficient. We believe that one of the core functions of food packaging is to protect food and thereby extend shelf life, thus preventing food waste and ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, by protecting food products, be it pasta sauces or olives, from damage and spoilage, smarter packaging can do its part by ensuring that the carbon footprint created in food production is not wasted.  Flexible pouches do this even more resource efficiently than their rigid counterparts.

Moving beyond assumptions around common practices

Glass jars and steel cans are commonly used for olives and pasta sauces in Europe largely because those packaging formats existed before flexible packaging was invented. However, today the significant the environmental benefits of flexible pouches outperform these conventional solutions. Production and logistics of rigid jars and cans require significant amounts of energy, leading to carbon emissions. The raw materials needed for glass jars and steel cans makes up the majority of these emissions and shows why conventional packaging formats, often perceived as sustainable, are not always the best possible alternative for the climate. We must move beyond long-held assumptions and use evidence-based life cycle thinking when evaluating the true impact of food packaging on the climate.

End-of-life impact

The challenge we face today with multi-material flexible packaging is recycling. As part of Huhtamaki’s commitment to make 100% of our products recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2030, we are actively working on improving the recyclability of our flexible packaging, including pouches. With our exciting blueloop concept, we are well on our way and have already recyclable structures commercially available for many flexible packaging applications.  Our goal is to contribute to a resource efficient circular economy. However, in addition to manufacturers such as us developing recyclable structures, wider investments into collection and recycling infrastructure are needed to achieve higher recycling rates.

Nevertheless, according to the ifeu study the post-consumer impact of packaging is not always the most significant factor in overall environmental performance. Even with a hypothetical 100% recycling rate, which reduced the impact for all three packaging types looked at, there was no change in the ranking order of the different types of packaging.

Driving systemic change with the help of fact-based decisions

In order to make environmentally viable decisions, we must have scientific evidence on the impacts of the existing alternatives. We should recognize that conventional choices are not always the best when it comes to climate impact, or other environmental impact categories. I warmly welcome the contribution of this LCA on the environmental impacts of flexible pouches as it provides crucial evidence for the conversations we need to hold food packaging, climate and better regulation if we are to drive systemic change.