If your company is interested in being truly sustainable, performing a life-cycle assessment of your current packaging may be a good place to start. This evaluation will take an up-close look at the entire journey of your packaging — from the raw materials stage all the way through to end-of-life waste, recycling, or reuse. You will measure the total environmental impact of your packaging to reveal where you can make meaningful improvements.
What Is a Life-Cycle Assessment?
A life-cycle assessment (LCA) identifies, quantifies, and analyzes sources of environmental impacts throughout a product’s life cycle. It scrutinizes all of the activities involved in making, using, and disposing of the product. The goal of an LCA is to enable your business to prioritize steps to make eco-friendly improvements to your processes or products. It helps you compare the environmental impact of different materials and manufacturing processes to determine the optimal option.
A typical life cycle chain moves from raw material extraction to production, then to use, and disposal. All of these steps use energy, materials, and other resources, as well as produce emissions and waste.
What’s Involved in a packaging LCA?
The International Organization for Standardization has created principles and a framework for conducting any type of LCA. Various vendors offer software to ease the process, which can be complicated. For example, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition has developed the design assessment software COMPASS, which enables companies to compare the environmental impacts of packaging. This type of software lets you input the data you collect during your LCA. By analyzing the results, you’ll discover insights into your packaging’s carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental indicators. You can also outsource your LCA to a business that specializes in these assessments.
Whether you choose to conduct your own LCA or outsource the task, it’s useful to know what will be involved in assessing the life-cycle of your packaging:
Step 1: Set your goals. In this phase, you should identify which of your packaging processes will be included in the assessment. You should also determine which environmental concerns will be addressed. You will also map out the complete route that your current packaging takes during its lifetime.
Step 2: Make a life-cycle inventory. That means gathering information about all the inputs and outputs for all aspects of your packaging. These elements include materials, chemicals, energy, solid waste, and air and water emissions.
Step 3: Assess the impact of your packaging’s life cycle. Your assessment should quantify such factors as natural resource usage and impact, pollution, and contributions to global warming and the depletion of ozone. Don’t overlook toxicity to humans and the environment,
Step 4: Analyze the data you collect. Your analysis will enable you to prepare a workable plan for making improvements in your packaging materials and processes to reduce their environmental impacts.
Choosing Your Packaging Materials
As Joseph Grygny, founder of the International Molded Fiber Association, points out, “the markets for molded fiber packaging products is exploding, primarily with those wanting to get out of using plastic materials for environmental reasons. There is a definite increase in the priority of packaging decision-makers for natural, environmentally sustainable packaging products, including molded fiber.”
The problems with plastics
For decades, plastics have been the go-to material for packaging. That’s primarily due to its low costs, strength, chemical resistance, and flexibility. But the widespread use of plastics has raised serious environmental concerns worldwide. Plastics contain polypropylene, polyester (PET), polyethylene, and other petroleum-based polymers. Although plastics are often recyclable, low recycling rates in many countries mean that most plastic packaging ends up as waste. All of these factors result in plastic packaging having a relatively high environmental impact.
A sustainable packaging solution
When making plans to lower the environmental impacts of your packaging, molded fiber is a leading eco-friendly packaging material to consider. Well-suited to a wide range of packaging needs, it is made from recycled corrugated pulp, paper, or fast growing natural fibers such as bamboo, bagasse, and reeds. In addition to being sustainable from beginning to end, molded fiber packaging solutions offer many other benefits, including:
- moisture resistance
- highly customizable (easily moldable into shapes; colors)
- good thermal stability
- nesting and stacking capability
- improved labor efficiency
- cost effectiveness
- reduced storage, delivery, and disposal costs
Some molded fiber manufacturers also use materials sourced solely from responsible, green suppliers and make packaging that is compliant with RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) and other regulatory standards.
Plastic or molded fiber?
If you’re looking for solutions to the issues raised by your life-cycle assessment, molded fiber packaging offers a good alternative to replace plastic or other types of packaging. The life-cycle benefits of molded fiber packaging include:
- 100% recyclable
- curbside recyclable
- 100% biodegradable
- can be incinerated with less environmental impact
- poses no health hazards
- materials widely available
- some fiber materials, such as bagasse, use existing agricultural waste streams, requiring no new raw materials.
- lower carbon footprint than plastic
Start planning an LCA today
A life-cycle assessment of your packaging is an important undertaking because it reveals the true environmental impacts of your packaging throughout its entire journey. The environmental impacts of the materials, the production process, the use phase, or the end-of-life stage can be high for many packaging options. Finding the right balance between all of the inputs and stages can be complicated. But choosing molded fiber packaging that is 100% recyclable, biodegradable, and sourced from responsible, green suppliers can help you achieve your sustainability goals. It can also boost your brand’s green image, promote a circular economy, and leave a healthier planet for our children.