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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life cycle assessments (LCAs) are viewed as a key tool by many industries to assess the environmental impacts of their operations and products along their life-cycle.

Within the packaging industry, LCAs have played an important role for companies in evaluating their environmental performance, with the aim of improving the product profiles and comparing various packaging types that offer the same functionality. Thus in the past years, numerous LCAs on beverage cartons and alternative packaging systems have been conducted.

Life Cycle Assessment as a transparent and coherent measurement tool of environmental impact

The beverage carton industry supports the use of a measurement tool that examines every stage of the packaging against all main environmental criteria: the Life-Cycle Assessment. LCAs can assess some environmental impacts (such as the global warming potential, as measured in greenhouse gas emissions) of a product throughout its existence, from its raw materials to the end-of-life phase. Life stages of the packaging include:

  • Production (raw material extraction, production, transport of materials and converting them into packaging),
  • Filling and secondary packaging,
  • Distribution of packaged products to retail outlets,
  • End of life (collection of waste generated over the life-cycle of the packaging and waste treatment; i.e. recycling, energy recovery, landfill),
  • LCAs help to identify drivers or causes of major environmental impacts and areas for improvement, compare impacts between products that fulfil the same function, and communicate the environmental profile of products.

To ensure credibility, transparency and comparability, the industry uses the LCA measurement tool in accordance with standards set out by ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation).

LCA Meta-analysis

A LCA enables the evaluation of various measurable environmental impacts (e.g. impact on climate change GHG emissions, effects on water, acid rain, energy consumption, water consumption etc.) across the entire life cycle.

The meta analysis 'LCA studies on beverage cartons and alternative packaging, IFEU 2009', assesses 22 individual LCAs which compare various forms of packaging material fulfilling the same function e.g. packing a litre of milk.

Several impact categories including climate change showed favourable outcomes for beverage cartons. Other impact categories showed inconclusive results because of either conflicting results or the sample size was too small. For others, LCAs were of limited value to draw meaningful conclusions.

Note that these findings are only valid within the framework (methodology chosen by the authors, limitations of individual LCAs) of this meta analysis.

Reducing further its carbon footprint

ACE members are not complacent, however, and are continually striving to lower emissions further.

In the Stora Enso and BillerudKorsnäs mills which produce the paperboard for cartons, the industry's carbon impact is mitigated by progressively replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy, therefore reducing net emissions of CO2 - currently more than 80% of the total energy used is from biomass and, therefore, renewable.

Some of the mills also distribute excess heat to the nearby communities, helping to further minimise fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in surrounding neighbourhoods.

Beverage carton producers also commit to energy efficient production. For example, ACE member company, Elopak, has recently signed up to the WWF Climate Savers Programme, joining Tetra Pak as a member in a group committed to reducing carbon impact throughout its operations while maintaining economic growth. In addition, SIG Combibloc aims to save 40 per cent CO2 emissions by 2015 in all of its worldwide production sites (reference year 2009).