CO2 emissions – When less is more ...

13/04/2023 | 2 min read
Diana Strasser

Greiner Packaging has identified three criteria that packaging must meet to be considered sustainable. First come the three Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle), which are key to a circular economy. Next, we have a responsibility as a company to use resources efficiently and cut back wherever possible, whether in terms of energy or materials. The third factor – a major consideration – is CO2 emissions. Despite this subject being extensively discussed, there are still many question marks over it. In this article, we would like to show you what can really make a difference when it comes to reducing the CO2 emissions associated with packaging.

What does it mean?

  • Carbon footprint: Carbon footprint means the extent to which someone or something – for example, a product – contributes to climate change. In addition to CO2 emissions, the carbon footprint also includes other gases that drive climate change, known as greenhouse gases.
  • CO2eq: This figure indicates how much a given greenhouse gas contributes to climate change relative to CO2 – i.e., its carbon dioxide equivalent. Methane, for example, has a global warming potential of 25*. This means that in 100 years’ time, methane will have contributed 25 times more to climate change than the same quantity of CO2.
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA): LCA is based on the same principles as the abovementioned carbon footprint. The main difference here is that LCA can estimate not only contribution to climate change (e.g., of a product) but also other environmental impacts, such as land use implications, ecotoxicological effects, and soil acidification potential. LCA is a holistic approach to assessing multiple environmental impacts – not just CO2eq.

What can be done to reduce the CO2eq emissions of packaging going forward?

  • Lightweighting: This involves making a packaging solution as lightweight as possible. As well as having a positive impact on its carbon footprint, this also makes sense in terms of resource efficiency.
  • Choice of materials: Different input materials and types of plastics have different CO2eq emissions. This means that the choice of material is pivotal when it comes to keeping the carbon footprint as small as possible. For example, using mechanically recycled plastic granules has great reduction potential.
  • Manufacturing and logistics: There are several stages in a product’s life cycle. In the manufacturing stage, efficient processes can save energy and, in turn, reduce emissions – as can short transportation distances.
  • End of life: A product’s end-of-life phase plays an important role in its carbon footprint. Mechanically recycling plastics can result in significant reductions. Recycling also promotes circularity and decreases the consumption of fossil-based resources.

It is important to us that we give our customers comprehensive advice around reducing the impact of packaging on the environment. With this in mind, we are focused on calculating the carbon footprints of our products.

Diana Strasser, global life cycle assessment expert at Greiner Packaging.

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