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11.11.2020 -

Challenges in understanding and measuring the environmental friendliness of packaging.

Hery-Christian Henry is Wipak‘s Head of Strategic Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility. His leadership role In Wipak has given him a strong perspective of the packaging world in Asia and the EU and a solid insight into the issues involved in understanding and measuring the environmental performance of packaging.

 

Helping consumers make environmentally friendly choices

According to Henry, 50% of consumers in the UK, Germany, China and Mexico are willing to pay more for packaging if it is environmentally friendly. The problem, however, is that consumers don’t know how to compare the environmental friendliness of products. The consumer should be helped to understand what the carbon footprint of the packaging, the carbon footprint of the product and their combined carbon footprint are. We lack a uniform labeling system for products in stores to facilitate comparison, which would help the consumer to make environmental decisions.

One example of such a labeling scheme is the indication of carbon footprint by carbon dioxide equivalent labeling. The carbon dioxide equivalent is a measure that describes the climate impact of man-made greenhouse gases. For example, the Swedish oat milk brand Oatly is adding a carbon dioxide equivalent rating to all its products.

 

The carbon footprint of the entire life cycle is crucial

The total carbon footprint takes into account the entire life cycle of the product and package, from the manufacture of the raw material to the disposal of the final product and packaging, either by recycling or otherwise. According to Henry, it is important to consider the entire life cycle.

Unless we measure a product’s total carbon footprint, we don’t know how much energy has gone into its overall life cycle. As a result, the consumer has incomplete information and is unable to make an informed purchase decision. One example of this is biodegradability, which may seem like an environmentally friendly option but does not necessarily guarantee a small carbon footprint.” Henry raises, for example, the use of banana leaf and protective plastic as packaging material. “Collection and processing of banana leaves for use in packaging may not be especially environmentally friendly except at the end of the product’s life cycle. The fact that the packaging is either partially or completely biodegradable does not mean that its total carbon footprint is small.”

The biggest impact on the carbon footprint of food comes from food waste. Throwing away a single slice of sliced cheese creates more than six times the carbon footprint of the packaging material itself. “In order to reduce the overall carbon footprint of a product, it is essential to package the product with as little packaging material and as small a carbon footprint as possible, but in such a way that the packaging protects the product for as long as possible. In that respect, Woodly is such a great material in that it protects the product from the minute it leaves the factory while having a sensationally low carbon footprint” Henry says. However, reducing food waste is not the sole responsibility of the product manufacturer. Consumers, restaurants and grocery stores should also make conscious decisions to reduce food waste.

 

Discard the “eliminate plastic” thinking and focus instead on plastic recycling

Plastic is a controversial packaging material. While on the one hand it is an inexpensive packaging material that protects the products from spoilage and contamination, on the other hand, when discarded, it causes significant environmental damage. These disadvantages, such as plastic debris that ends up in the sea, have polarized the discussion of plastic to one of eliminating plastic, which Henry does not see as a solution to the actual problem. Instead, it is essential to ensure that the material produced is designed to be recycled and recycling infrastructure is supported so that it is easy for consumers to sort and recycle the plastic they consume. Unfortunately, this is not currently the case.

“We lack the necessary coordination of recycling infrastructure at the EU level. There can be multiple recycling schemes within one country.” Henry says. He calls for an open discussion and concrete action. “Difficult things need to be able to be talked about, even though they are complex. Informing and engaging in fact-based debate is at the heart of changing consumer behavior.” he says.

Although the EU’s infrastructure is still incomplete, the EU has done much to promote recycling and about 40% of EU Green Deal funding is for the promotion of green technologies. Henry sees a great opportunity here for Finland, which, together with the Netherlands and Germany, is a pioneer in the EU for matters related to the circular economy and recycling.

 

“The cooperation agreement between Wipak and Woodly is a significant step towards reducing the carbon footprint of the raw material base on Wipak’s quest towards carbon neutrality”

Wipak aims to reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2025. In 2019 Wipak and Woodly made a cooperation agreement with the goal of jointly developing a product line of carbon-neutral plastic film packaging. Henry sees a significant benefit in being able to utilize Woodly material in existing production lines.

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