Research highlights impact of food and beverage packaging

Packaging specialist Tetra Pak has released new research that revealed the carbon footprint of different food and beverage (F&B) packaging formats in Australia and New Zealand, with carton packaging having the lowest climate impact.

Commissioned by Tetra Pak and conducted by environmental consultants thinkstep ANZ, the new report “Life Cycle Assessment of Beverage and Food Packaging in Australia and New Zealand” is a market-first, independently peer reviewed comparison of the environmental impact of common packaging formats, including cartons, PET bottles, rPET (recycled PET) bottles, HDPE bottles, pouches, tin cans, glass bottles and glass jars.

It is important for F&B manufacturers to look at the carbon contribution of packaging across the entire life cycle of a package, in addition to end-of-life. The report revealed that the biggest contributor to carbon emissions is the source of materials used in the packaging.

Based on the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere per package of 1L fresh milk, the report found that carton packaging has a climate impact of 51 grams – almost 12 times less than glass packaging (605 grams), 5.5 times less than PET (280 grams) and 3 times less than HDPE (164 grams).

Cartons performed the best compared to other forms of packaging because of its material efficiency (using less material) and its mass which is mostly fibre from a renewable plant source.

Packaging formats were analysed across their entire life cycle, including base material production, pack manufacturing, filling, transport, and end-of-life (recycling or landfill) impacts, to offer insight into their overall environmental impact.

Andrew Pooch, Managing Director, Tetra Pak Oceania said: “Food packaging plays a critical role in feeding the world’s population, but it is causing problems for our climate. Today, the global food system accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable food packaging can play a strong role in bringing about the harmony between protecting our planet’s ecosystem and meeting the human need for food. As an industry, we need to start talking about minimising packaging impact from cradle-to-grave, if we are serious about sustainability.

It is critical for the F&B industry to explore new ways of producing materials, addressing their embedded carbon, and promoting carbon neutral materials.

Cartons have the potential to become the world’s most sustainable food package. Mostly made of paper, cartons have a far smaller contribution to greenhouse gas emissions compared to other packaging types. If we swapped Australia’s pasteurised milk from formats like HDPE bottles, rPET bottles and PET bottles to cartons, it would be the annual equivalent of taking more than 77,000 cars off the road.