What Is Packaging’s Carbon Footprint? Discover How to Reduce It

23 Mar 2021

Can we decide today which planet we will have tomorrow? The scientific community has been warning the world for years about the consequences of current pollution levels, and the packaging sector is no stranger to this reality. One of the most relevant indicators in this context is packaging’s carbon footprint, which allows us to calculate the environmental impact caused by its manufacture and use, in order to reduce it altogether.

What is packaging’s carbon footprint?

Packaging’s carbon footprint is an indicator that measures the pollution caused by the manufacturing process, transport and useful -as well as residual- lives of product packaging. It is an essential tool to calculate and reduce the environmental impact of the packaging used by businesses.

In the last 70 years, CO₂ emissions have increased at an exponential rate, a fact that worries both businesses and consumers. Carbon dioxide is not the only gas associated with carbon footprints, since there are other gases that are harmful to the atmosphere, such as methane (CH₄), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

How is packaging’s carbon footprint calculated?

When it comes to calculating packaging carbon footprints, greenhouse gas emissions generated during the following processes are analysed and measured: 

- Production: raw materials are included (ideally paper and cardboard, because of their smaller environmental impact compared to plastic) and the packaging’s design, creation and transformation processes.

- Transport of the raw materials to the factory, from the factory to the storage facility and from there to the shop or the end consumer.

- Useful life: we distinguish between reusable containers and packaging materials that can be recycled and used to manufacture new packaging.

- Recycling or management of waste derived from packaging.

Beyond packaging, businesses can estimate the carbon footprints of all their activities with the help of international calculators such as the GHG Protocol (Greenhouse Gas Protocol), or else with instruments provided by national governmental organisations. For instance, the UK provides conversion factors for companies to accurately report greenhouse gas emissions, in order to comply with Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting regulations.

How to reduce packaging’s carbon footprint: three key strategies

We would like to highlight three main strategies to reduce packaging carbon footprints:

1. Save resources by studying closely the packaging’s dimensions

With the packaging’s design, the size of the cardboard container is analysed, as well as the weight of the materials in the folding cartons, labels and leaflets; all with the purpose of optimising the space available without hindering the basic features that provide information and protect the product.

In this way, packaging that fits the product not only reduces the carbon footprint linked to packing, but also the production and transport costs.

2. Choose sustainable raw materials from a certified origin

The materials most used in packaging are plastic, paper or cardboard. According to a study carried out by the CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law), in order to manufacture a kilogram of plastic, 3.5kg of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere, which only adds to the problem posed by its slow degradation.

Instead, paper and cardboard can have a neutral carbon footprint if they are obtained in a way that is respectful to the environment. In this very sense, FSC and PEFC certificates ensure the extraction of wood and derived raw materials comply with sustainable management criteria throughout the entire supply chain.

Opting for certified raw materials plays a part in reducing packaging carbon footprints because it favours providers who respect the environment. We must not forget that deforestation is the second greatest cause of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

3. Choose providers that are committed to the environment

The verification bodies issue certifications and validate businesses’ environmental commitment. In this sense, at Essentra Packaging we have the ISO 14001:2015 qualification, which endorses our company’s Environmental Management System in the production of folding cartons for pharmaceutical and beauty products.

Are you ready to reduce the carbon footprint of your company’s packaging? If you need advice to achieve packaging that is more respectful with the environment, you can count on Essentra Packaging. Contact us and we will help you optimise your packaging and apply eco-design criteria during its creation. We are waiting for you!