Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases, and many packaging “scorecards” are popping up in the market. But most do not paint an accurate picture of your products' environmental impacts. Here’s how you can help clarify the picture.
Most scorecards are based on attributes – things like weight, recycled content, renewable content, etc. While many of these attributes are indispensable pieces of information, they do not in and of themselves necessarily indicate positive or negative environmental consequences. Instead, they must be evaluated in connection with life cycle indicators and other attributes. Their validity depends on the specific case at hand and not all are valid for every application.
There are many approaches to packaging Life Cycle Assessment. Here’s a look “under the hood” at the methodology used by EarthShift Global’s PackageSmart.PackageSmart provides not just engineering insights, but clear testimony to the full environmental impact of new packaging designs.
In the broadest sense, packaging Life Cycle Assessment involves collecting a substantial amount of data about a piece of packaging (resources used, emissions created, etc.), and then boiling down that data through an interpretive process to create high-level metrics that can be used for assessment and comparison with other options. These impacts address the needs of most users by focusing on the damage a package causes ed by our products in the areas of to human health, ecosystem quality, and resources, and then adding some of the metrics that are most of interest to today’s companies: greenhouse gas emissions and water and energy use.
We began development of the PackageSmart packaging impact assessment method by drawing on five categories from ReCiPe (Goedkoop, 2009) (http://www.lcia-recipe.net/), the latest internationally accepted data interpretation methodology. We then added a sixth category - cumulative energy demand (Frishknecht, 2003). This combined approach provides a broad and robust perspective on the total environmental impact of a package.
Three of the ReCiPe assessment categoriesy calculates an endpoint result by taking into account a different combination of environmental mechanisms and mid-point indicators (“Impact Categories”). PackageSmart leverages the following ReCiPe categories:
In this category, the damage analysis links six impact categories (Climate Change, Human Toxicity, Photochemical Oxidant Formation, Particulate Matter Formation, Ionizing Radiation and Ozone Depletion) to Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY), the sum of years of potential life lost due to premature mortality and the years of productive life lost due to disability.
The impact categories that apply to ecosystem quality are: Climate Change, Terrestrial Acidification, Freshwater Eutrophication, Ecotoxicity, Agricultural Land Occupation, Urban Land Occupation and Natural Land Transformation. The damage to ecosystems is measured by considering which species would disappear in a given time period.
The two impact categories that apply to resources are Fossil Depletion and Metal Depletion. The quantification of damage is based on the marginal increase of cost due to extraction of resources, measured in dollars per kilogram ($/kg, economic).
Two of the categories come from ReCiPe midpoints: water depletion and climate change. These are described in more detail below.:
This category quantifies the total water consumed by a process/product. It is measured as the volume of water consumed (in cubic meters).
Gas emissions linked to climate change include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and fluorinated gases. This category combines the effect of the differing times greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere, and their relative effectiveness in absorbing outgoing infrared radiation. The concentration of greenhouse gases is measured as kg equivalents of CO2, i.e. the relative global warming potential of a gas as compared to CO2. The IPCC model with a 100-year time horizon is used for characterization. The uptake of carbon dioxide from the air (sequestration of CO2 by plants) and the subsequent emission of biogenic carbon dioxide (from the burning of biomass) are not included.
Cumulative energy demand measures the cumulative energy resources required (total MJs) throughout the life cycle of a package, including energy from: non-renewable fossil, non-renewable nuclear, non-renewable biomass, renewable biomass, renewable wind, solar, geothermal and renewable water.
To make interpretation and comparisons easier, LCA studies often normalize data in relation to a reference system. The normalization factors available with the impact assessment methods are typically for a certain geographical region. Our PackageSmart method contains normalization factors that express per-capita world impacts for the year 2000.
The Global Packaging Project (GPP) has worked over the past 2.5 years to develop a set of recommended Life Cycle Indicators and packaging attributes which are incorporated into PackageSmart LCA software. It is likely that many companies will adopt these metrics for their sustainable package metrics, and in turn the GPP environmental indicators will standardize the measurement of sustainable packaging, making comparisons and evaluations much easier. Their environmental indicators include both attributes and LCA impact categories. (See figure below for a summary of the GPP metrics.)
In conjunction with the release of the GPP indicators, a GPP Impact Assessment Method (IAM) will be included in the PackageSmart LCA software. This will allow users to easily model their LCA toward these indicators, providing them with accurate and actionable data.
Goedkoop M., Heijungs R., Huijbregts M., Schryver A.D., Struijs J., Van Zelm R. (2009). ReCiPe, First edition. Pre Consultants, Amersfoort, Netherlands, CML, University of Leiden, Netherlands, RUN Radbound University Nijmegen Netherlands, RIVM, Bilthoven, Netherlands.
Frischknecht R., Jungbluth N., et.al. (2003). Implementation of Life Cycle Impact Assessment Methods. Final report ecoinvent 2000, Swiss Centre for LCI. Dübendorf, CH, www.ecoinvent.org