Packaging’s role in sustainability is not what you thought

The packaging industry should not rest on its laurels, even though according to the recent WWF Dairy Lifecycle Analysis report, packaging only contributes 4-6% of the total carbon footprint of the milk production lifecycle. According to the report’s author, The Green House’s Dr Philippa Notten, packaging has the highest influence on the rest on the rest of the lifecycle compared to any other stage from the farm to the consumer.

For instance, the carbon footprint of a container is equivalent to that of 1.5 tablespoons of milk inside the container. In addition, wastage that takes place later in the lifecycle of milk has a higher carbon footprint: wasting one litre of milk at home is equivalent to wasting two litres at the farm. So, in the context of this report, it is vital for packaging companies to concentrate on extending the life of milk both in the supply chain and once it reaches the consumer, to make sure every litre is used. This is more important than other sustainability concerns and debunks some assumed sustainability practices, such as the benefits of larger packaging.

Long-life milk is one solution, reducing refrigeration requirements, allowing consumers to buy more milk at once, cutting down on trips to the supermarket and extending the life of the milk at home. Tetrapak has recently launched what it says is the world’s first aseptic carton bottle, the Tetra Evero Aseptic one-litre carton bottle, which combines the features of a bottle, such as ease of pouring and storing, with the benefits of a carton, including being lighter to transport with less additional packaging required than some other containers. The carton bottle is made from FSC-approved renewable paperboard and uses half the electricity than other aseptic bottling lines.

From milk to wine, Backsberg has been shaking up the vino packaging market with the use of PET bottles in its eco-friendly Tread Lightly range of wines. The polyethylene terephthalate bottles weigh 50g compared to the 400g a glass wine bottle weighs; have a carbon footprint of 29% to 52% less than glass bottles; use 40% to 50% less energy in manufacturing and the supply chain; and have allowed Backsberg to reduce its deliveries by a quarter.

Retailers can use less shelf-space to display, refrigerate or store the bottles, which don’t break if dropped. These benefits continue on the to consumer and it is intended that consumer choose the lightweight bottles for outdoor activities where glass is not allowed or appropriate.

The PET bottles are produced by Mondipak Plastics and consist of a dual layer of PET with an oxygen barrier layer sandwiched in between to prevent oxidation. According to Mondipak this ensures the wine has a shelf life of up to two years.

Recently Mondipak has released a 187 ml version of the bottle for the airline industry, with the U.S.-based JetBlue using them. Other wineries to jump on board are Simonsvlei, which is using a light green version of the bottles for its Lifestyle range; and Boland Cellar for its eco-friendly Flutterby range. Woolworths uses the bottle for its white One Off wine.

Sticking with the wine industry, Rhebokskloof is claiming a first in the South African wine industry with the tree-free labels since the end of last year. The labels are produced from 100% renewable sugar cane fibre. The 110 gramme uncoated paper allows for all the usual value-added printing features, and apparently stays put when wet, even in an ice bucket.

First published on South African Food Review.