A modern Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study has provided necessary evidence on the environmental advantages of flexible packaging in nearly all environmental impact categories, including carbon footprint. In addition, this study presents valuable scientific insights into the impact of multi-material flexible pouches linked to other commonly used packaging formats.
We understand that the LCA is helpful when reviewing how we make the most sustainable packaging solutions by bringing additional scientific evidence. Furthermore, at Huhtamaki, we believe that facts and confirmation should be the foundation for decision-making and regulation.
A current study on environmental impacts of flexible pouches
The LCA was escorted by the highly respected German-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (ifeu), authorized by Flexible Plastics Europe (FPE). It examined the environmental impacts of flexible pouches with glass jars and steel cans for pasta sauces and olives in the European market. Flexible bags showed clear, demonstrable ecological benefits over the two other formats.
For example, with a 400g content, a stretchy pouch had a 63% lower climate change impact than a glass jar and a 69% deeper impression than a steel can.
That study highlights the fact that lightweight, flexible packaging is resource-efficient. In addition, one of the core purposes of food packaging is to protect food and increase shelf life, thus hindering food waste and ultimately decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, by preserving food products, be it pasta sauces or olives, from damage and spoilage, more clever packaging can do its part by ensuring that the carbon footprint created in food production is not ruined. Flexible pouches do this also more resource-efficient than their rigid complements.
Moving beyond assumptions around standard systems
Glass jars and steel cans are generally used for olives and pasta sauces in Europe because these packaging arrangements existed before flexible packaging was invented. Though, today the significant environmental benefits of flexible pouches exceed those standard explications. The product and logistics of rigid jars and cans need substantial energy, leading to carbon emissions. The raw materials required for glass jars and steel cans make up most of these emanations and show why conventional packaging arrangements, often perceived as sustainable, are not constantly the best possible alternative for the climate. We must move beyond long-held hypotheses and use evidence-based life cycle thinking when estimating the authentic influence of food packaging on the environment.
The difficulty we face today with multi-material flexible packaging is recycling. As a member of Huhtamaki’s commitment to making 100% of our products recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2030, we are actively operating on improving the recyclability of our flexible packaging, including pouches.
With our unique blueloop concept, we are well on our way and have already recyclable structures commercially ready for many flexible packaging applications. Thus, we aim to contribute to a resource-efficient circular economy. Nevertheless, in addition to developing recyclable systems, more total investments into collection and recycling infrastructure are needed to achieve more excellent recycling rates.
Nevertheless, according to the study, the post-consumer influence of packaging is not always an essential factor in overall environmental performance. Also, with a hypothetical 100% recycling rate, which decreased the impact for all three packaging types, there was no difference in the ranking order of the various kinds of packaging.
Driving systemic reform with the help of fact-based decisions
To create environmentally viable decisions, we must have objective evidence on the impacts of the existing alternatives. We should remember that conventional choices are not always the best for climate influence or other environmental impact categories. I kindly welcome the contribution of this LCA about the ecological effects of flexible pouches as it presents crucial evidence for the conversations we want to hold regarding food packaging, climate, and more careful regulation if we are to drive systemic change.