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Prevention of Waste & Mitigation of Global Warming with Flexible Packaging

The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (ifeu) recently extended its study on the positive environmental consequences of flexible packaging compared to rigid packaging formats. The study which was commissioned by Flexible Packaging Europe (FPE), shows beyond doubt that the use of flexible packaging results in greater resource efficiency as well as reduced carbon footprint. Specifically, the complete substitution in the EU of non-flexible packaging with flexible packaging for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), excluding the sector of beverages, would not only significantly reduce the overall packaging waste but also decrease by 33% the Global Warming Potential.

The study is comprised of two scenarios that display the key role flexible packaging plays in the prevention of packaging waste as well as the mitigation of global warming.

In the first scenario, all non-flexible packaging in the EU for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), excluding the sector of beverages, are substituted by flexible packaging. This would result in reduction of packaging waste by 21 million tons per year which translates to >70% less the amount of non-beverage FMCG primary packaging in the EU.

Even more astonishing are the environmental benefits. The life cycle assessment (LCA) approach used in the study, demonstrates that, if such substitution were to happen, the total Global Warming Potential (GWP) of all European, non-beverage FMCG primary packaging would decrease by 33%. That is even if no material recycling processes for flexible packaging happen.

The second scenario demonstrates what would happen if all flexible packaging used for non-beverage FMCG were to be substituted by rigid packaging formats. In such case, the total Global Warming Potential (GWP) would rise by 30%. Even if the recycling rate of rigid packaging was raised to a completely theoretical 100%, the total GWP would still increase by 14%. What is more, through the LCA approach the study assessed the environmental impact of Abiotic Depletion, which refers to the use of non-renewable resources and the use of Water. The results were similar in the same order of magnitude for all three impact categories.

The report’s authors conclude that for packaging the focus should not be on recyclability only but also and foremost on prevention. This can be achieved by a higher use of flexible packaging, which would lead not only to less primary packaging waste, but also to lower carbon footprint and use of resources. On the contrary, focusing only on recyclability and achieving recycling goals may promote the substitution of flexible packaging solutions by more easily recyclable, rigid packaging. This approach besides running counter to the objective of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive to prevent packaging waste, it would also be detrimental for the climate change and resource efficiency.

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Commenting on the study, Jean-Paul Duquet (Sustainability Director, FPE) said: “Prevention is on top of the waste hierarchy defined by the European Commission’s Waste Framework Directive, before other approaches like reuse, recycling and energy recovery. The priority accorded to prevention before recycling is highly relevant for packaging, as this study demonstrates. Flexible packaging perfectly fulfils this prevention requirement and proves to be a major part of the solution to today’s challenges facing the packaging sector and the environment. Not to mention the important ongoing efforts to reach high recyclability performances and make flexible packaging even more resource efficient.”