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Packaging’s Role in Reducing Environmental Impact

Published 09 February 2016 | By Tetra Pak

The environmental impact and sustainability credentials of food and drink packaging are now firmly at the front of consumers’ minds. This interest has progressed from a focus on the end-of-life of a package – over 80% of consumers are now actively recycling waste – to an increasing appreciation of the beginning-of-life, with customers associating ethically sourced products with good quality. Furthermore, two thirds of consumers say that they have bought environmental products, even when they cost more.

This means that sustainable practice is no longer a nice-to-have, but an essential part of doing business in the food industry. As the world's largest packaging company, Tetra Pak is playing its part by innovating across three key areas of packaging - design, materials and production - which all lead to significant reductions in environmental footprint.

Design
Looking first at design, two key developments have been in weight and shape. Lowering weight reduces a package's environmental footprint both directly - in terms of less materials used - and indirectly - through emissions saved during manufacturing, transport and recycling.

Package shape has also become a focus for retailers and food producers, as an efficient shape can hold more food, facilitate faster shelf replenishment, reduce waste handling and optimise use of shelf space to help lower direct product cost (DPC) for retailers.

One example of a packaging creation that unites both weight and shape benefits is Tetra Pak's Tetra Recart®, the world's first retortable carton package for shelf-stable products such as soups, sauces and pet food. The square shape of the Tetra Recart package means it is easy to stack and transport. It also weighs around 65% less than a can and is lighter than a glass jar and a pouch, when you include secondary packaging. Purchasing five 500ml Tetra Recart soup cartons instead of steel cans could save CO2 emissions equal to powering a 60W light bulb for over 23 hours.

Materials
Secondly, the materials used in packaging have become a primary focus of the industry as consumers become more environmentally aware. According to Tetra Pak research, consumers are increasingly expressing a preference for cartons because they are made of renewable resources such as paper board, and nearly 40% of consumers now look for environmental logos when shopping.
Recognising this consumer trend, Tetra Pak has been investing in creating renewable packaging, which was an industry first. It has also increased engagement with objective, third party environmental measurements such as the Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™) and the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to help showcase environmental credentials to consumers.

Production
Last but not least is production - and the ongoing innovation in packaging production lines that allows modern machines to deliver vastly improved operational efficiencies and overall environmental performance. For producers, this means less water and energy consumption, reduced waste production as well as lower CO2 emissions. For instance, the machine used to produce Tetra Recart - the Tetra Pak® R2 - is able to produce 6,000 packages an hour with a 30% lower carbon footprint compared to the previous development step.

These three key areas of innovation have resulted in the creation of ground-breaking products, such as Tetra Recart, and demonstrate the contribution packaging can make towards the sustainability agendas of producers and consumers. As the world's population grows, demand for packaging and pressure on the environment will only increase. Tetra Pak has recognised this and is taking its responsibility as industry leader seriously; it will continue to invest in developments that minimise its environmental impact.

Tetra Pak's FSC license code is FSC™ C014047