Commercial food producers and retailers have heard the message clearly: consumers want more sustainable packaging options. As companies try to answer the call, many have discovered that finding a solution that meets their needs can be challenging. Plastics are the predominant choice because of their many advantages; they are lightweight, sturdy, and affordable. Alternatives to plastics, such as cardboard, can’t meet the demands of retail food.
Many companies are taking a fresh look at sustainability and sustainable packaging. Instead of eliminating plastics, how can we reduce plastic use while maintaining the benefits that plastic brings?
In this post, we’ll share a few examples of how companies can take a comprehensive look at the carbon impact of their plastic packaging with life cycle assessment.
Life Cycle Assessment: What Is It?
A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a way to look at a product's overall environmental impact, from sourcing materials to disposal. Software tools and third-party analysis can quantify this impact using industry-accepted metrics and data, showing manufacturers of all kinds just how carbon-intensive their materials, processes, and delivery systems are.
At Lacerta, we use Trayak's Eco-Impact LCA tool to assess all our materials and products, including our PET and post-consumer (PCR) plastics. It uses data derived from analysis of the product's various "life" stages, including material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, end-of-life, and use impacts. The results give customers a better understanding of the environmental impact of their plastic packaging and help them make more sustainable packaging choices.
Why Use Sustainable Alternatives?
In 2023, Gartner released an analysis showing that efforts to reduce plastics in products were moving slowly, bogged down by several challenges. The report found that 20% of organizations will shift their focus from recycling and eliminating plastics to reducing the carbon footprint of their packaging by 2026. That means new commitments to sustainable packaging focused on making 100% of their packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.
"Organizations face operational and financial challenges that were discovered only through the attempt to deliver their goals," said John Blake, senior director analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice. "But meaningful progress on sustainability can still be made with more realistic frameworks in place."
Gartner touts LCA software tools as an important step in achieving sustainability goals, saying, "New data analysis tools are making packaging LCAs more accessible."
Life Cycle Assessment Examples
To better see how the Trayak LCA tool works and how it can help drive packaging decisions, let's look at some life cycle assessment examples:
Example 1: 48 oz. Rectangle PET container vs PCR container
One of Lacerta's more popular packaging options is the 48 oz. Fresh n' Sealed rectangle container. It is available in virgin PET, 25% post-consumer plastic (PCR), and 100% PCR. As you can see in the LCA report, using 25% PCR reduces CO2 emissions by 3.1 tons throughout the life cycle, while using 100% PCR will reduce CO2 emissions by 15.5 tons, assuming a manufacturer uses 112,500 packages.
Example 2: 8 oz Parfait PET vs PCR
This parfait cup used for desserts and snacks is available in virgin PET, 25% post-consumer plastic (PCR), and 100% PCR. Assuming a commercial food procedure uses 360,000 cups over a product's life cycle, opting for 25% PCR reduces CO2 emissions by 4.3 tons. Using 100% PCR will reduce CO2 emissions by 17 tons over the product's lifecycle to further sustainability benefits.
Life Cycle Assessment to Reach Sustainability Goals
As you can see from these examples, the CO2 emission reduction using recycled plastics can be significant. Instead of entirely eliminating plastics, companies see an opportunity to use plastics in a smarter way. Using LCA tools and working with a food packaging producer with sustainable packaging capabilities gets companies on a path to meeting their goals. This can be done in stages, with a 25% PCR option, a 100% PCR option, or by working with Lacerta to design a package that is made using less plastic.
At Lacerta, we're aligned with the sustainability goals of our customers, which is why we've set our plan to make 100% of our products include up to 100% recycled, recyclable materials by 2025. For more information about our sustainable packaging options, contact us.