Packaging LCA: Measuring Sustainability and Information Flow Through the Value Chain

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the package you choose truly reflects the kind of company you run.

December 4, 2012

Pack­ag­ing is impor­tant for many rea­sons: It is a ves­sel that pro­tects the prod­uct inside, it con­veys vital infor­ma­tion to edu­cate peo­ple about the prod­uct, and it is also the first visual cue that helps attract peo­ple to the prod­uct.  See the full arti­cle here.

With sus­tain­abil­ity mov­ing to the fore­front of cor­po­rate objec­tives, espe­cially for consumer-​​packaged goods (CPG) com­pa­nies, the pack­ag­ing indus­try has com­mit­ted to becom­ing more sus­tain­able as well. While the global pack­ag­ing indus­try is val­ued at approx­i­mately $500 bil­lion, the sus­tain­able pack­ag­ing por­tion accounts for 20% and is grow­ing four times faster than the over­all average.

The trend con­tin­ues to drive oppor­tu­nity for growth in the use of green chem­istry to make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence. After all, sus­tain­abil­ity is not just about the “green­ing” of dis­creet prod­uct ingre­di­ents or what ends up printed on the label. If a prod­uct is truly sus­tain­able inside and out, the pack­ag­ing must be con­sid­ered too. To that end, more pack­ag­ing com­pa­nies are begin­ning to use life cycle analy­sis (LCA) tech­niques to sci­en­tif­i­cally mea­sure envi­ron­men­tal impact and stay aligned with CPG companies.

Life cycle analysis

LCA is a fairly com­pre­hen­sive tool for eval­u­at­ing sus­tain­abil­ity, mea­sur­ing the use of energy, mate­ri­als and releases to the air, water and earth by a prod­uct from raw mate­r­ial extrac­tion through end-​​of-​​life man­age­ment — tak­ing into account pro­cess­ing, fab­ri­ca­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, use and dis­posal or recy­cling. This cradle-​​to-​​grave approach helps to avoid a nar­row out­look on the impact a prod­uct can have on its sur­round­ings beyond the envi­ron­ment, includ­ing peo­ple and businesses.

Eco­logic Brands’ paper bot­tles res­onate with brands and con­sumers seek­ing more sus­tain­able pack­ag­ing alternatives

Oak­land, California-​​based Eco­logic Brands is a pack­ag­ing com­pany that is green by design and sought to val­i­date its posi­tion by con­duct­ing an LCA. The com­pany is America’s first maker of molded paper bot­tles that con­sist of a rigid outer shell, made from 100 per­cent recy­cled card­board and news­pa­per, com­bined with a thin inner pouch, made with roughly 70 per­cent less plas­tic than tra­di­tional rigid plas­tic bot­tles. Post use, the outer shell can be recy­cled or com­posted where no recy­cling facil­i­ties exist, and the inner pouch can be recy­cled with other #4 LDPE plastic.

Seventh Gen Ecologic bottleSev­enth Gen­er­a­tion, renowned for its com­mit­ment to sus­tain­abil­ity, launched a 4x con­cen­trated nat­ural laun­dry deter­gent in Eco­logic Brands bot­tles in March 2011 and reported a 19 per­cent increase in the company’s laun­dry deter­gent ship­ments year-​​over-​​year.

To quan­tify what this per­for­mance rep­re­sents in terms of sus­tain­abil­ity, Eco­logic Brands engaged Franklin & Asso­ciates to con­duct an LCA of its 50oz eco.bottleTM. Estab­lished in 1974, Franklin & Asso­ciates is one of the most highly respected LCA ser­vice providers, espe­cially in the pack­ag­ing sector.

Franklin & Asso­ciates com­pared Eco­logic Brands’ 50oz eco.bottleTM to 50oz vir­gin, 10 per­cent recy­cled and 50 per­cent recy­cled HDPE bot­tles. The goal of the LCA was to deter­mine the envi­ron­men­tal bur­dens asso­ci­ated with the Eco­logic Brands molded fiber bot­tle as com­pared to other types of con­tain­ers used to pack­age laun­dry deter­gents. The LCA looked at four spe­cific life cycle phases of empty bottles:

  1. Mate­r­ial pro­duc­tion — Cov­ers all processes from extrac­tion of raw mate­ri­als through pro­duc­tion of mate­ri­als in a form ready for fab­ri­ca­tion into a con­tainer and con­tainer com­po­nents (e.g. cap, spout, pouch liner).
  2. Con­tainer fab­ri­ca­tion — Includes the fab­ri­ca­tion of the pri­mary con­tain­ers from the mate­ri­als pro­duced in the first life cycle phase. Does not include trans­porta­tion require­ments from the fab­ri­ca­tion site to the fill­ing site.
  3. Trans­porta­tion (to fill­ing and retail) — Includes the aver­age trans­porta­tion require­ments from the con­tainer man­u­fac­ture to the fill­ing site and from the fill­ing site to the dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ter and on to retail location.
  4. Dis­posal and recy­cling — Cov­ers cur­rent U.S. dis­posal and recy­cling sce­nar­ios for the con­tain­ers’ post-​​consumer mate­ri­als. Includes the energy require­ments for trans­port­ing mate­ri­als to a land­fill or waste-​​to-​​energy (WTE) incin­er­a­tor, the oper­a­tion of heavy equip­ment at a land­fill site, and the energy recov­ered by an incin­er­a­tor or cap­ture of land­fill methane gas. Green­house gas emis­sions result­ing from land­fill­ing and WTE incin­er­a­tion also are accounted for here.

Impact

The find­ings revealed com­pelling results across key envi­ron­men­tal met­rics for the eco.bottle™ and proved that pack­ag­ing made from molded recy­cled paper con­tent truly out­per­forms both vir­gin HDPE plas­tic bot­tles and those made from 50 per­cent recy­cled plastic:

Ecologic

The LCA quan­ti­fied Eco­logic Brands’ sus­tain­abil­ity, and the asso­ci­ated in-​​market per­for­mance exem­pli­fies how the ben­e­fits of alter­na­tive pack­ag­ing extend across the value chain.

  • Envi­ron­ment
    • Bot­tles use less plas­tic than tra­di­tional bottles
    • Outer shells use 100 per­cent recy­cled content
    • Diverts mate­ri­als des­tined for landfills
  • Brands
    • Dis­rup­tive pack­age with proven sales lift and dis­tri­b­u­tion growth
    • Tan­gi­ble com­mit­ment to sustainability
    • Ship­ping effi­ciency increases (unassem­bled eco.bottlesTM ship nested and flat so one truck can carry as many Eco­logic bot­tles as six trucks would carry HDPE bottles)
    • Reduced reliance on plas­tic and volatil­ity of resin cost
  • Retail­ers
    • On-​​shelf differentiation
    • Oppor­tu­nity to lever­age recy­cling stream and achieve closed loop system
  • Con­sumers
    • Affords “feel-​​good” choice beyond plas­tic and glass

To date, the 2.4 mil­lion bot­tles pro­duced by Eco­logic Brands rep­re­sent a small yet sig­nif­i­cant change to how pack­ag­ing sus­tain­abil­ity can be assessed — 2.4 mil­lion molded paper bot­tles trans­lates to nearly 170 tons of plas­tic diverted from land­fills; 3 mil­lion kWh energy saved, enough to power almost 300 homes in the US for an entire year; and enough COemis­sions cuts to take 120 cars off the road every year. This is just the beginning.

Eco­logic bottles