Life cycle analysis (LCA) can guide the design of sustainable packaging

Life cycle analysis (LCA) can guide the design of sustainable packaging

To optimize circular and sustainable design, packaging technologists must consider the potential environmental impacts of the product throughout its lifetime.

Environmental impact categories can include carbon/greenhouse gas emissions, water depletion, mineral consumption, land transformation, eutrophication, toxicity and many others, and can be undertaken through a life cycle assessment (LCA).

This assessment can look holistically at the environmental impacts of products and associated packaging, from raw materials to production, to households, and then to end of life.

Now more than ever, scientific information, derived from an LCA, is such an important step in ensuring that your product and packaging have the lowest possible environmental impact across the entire value chain.

When used in the packaging industry, LCA can provide accurate data that can guide a company in choosing packaging materials, shapes and sizes, but also when looking to spend to a “more sustainable” material or packaging. Packaging recyclability, ability to reuse and refill packaging and meeting global and regional packaging targets should also be considered and can be verified as design choices with LCA.

Using LCA in this decision-making process ensures that the business has all available data sets to make informed choices. LCA can remove doubts and assumptions about sustainable packaging choices and can provide actionable information that spans all areas of the supply chain.

Start with a lifecycle map

Before undertaking an LCA, establish a cross-departmental, cross-supply chain team to create a life cycle map of your product and its packaging.

The life cycle map should provide a clear and concise representation of the steps required to supply and produce the product’s packaging system, distribution system, as well as its use, disposal and recovery. . Determining the inputs and outputs of lifecycle stages on the map, such as energy, materials and emissions, should then begin to reveal blind spots and impact categories or priority areas to focus on. focus. The map will also help identify areas for improvement, challenges and unintended consequences of possible product or packaging choices.

Simplified LCA or full LCA

Once you have established your lifecycle map, the next step is to decide whether you want to undertake a simplified LCA or a full product LCA. To do this, you need to define the purpose and scope of the LCA. You must determine the object of the study, i.e. internal improvement or public demands, the limits of the system to be defined, the inventory to be collected, the impact study to be applied and the method of interpretation that will allow the company to arrive at conclusions and recommendations.

Simplified LCA is ideal when a company is looking to better understand blind spots and key areas of interest in a product’s lifecycle, or to make internal decisions about something to change in the lifecycle . Streamlined LCAs can deliver results quickly, are ideal for SMEs, and can help invaluably achieve global and regional packaging goals. They are also a great way to determine if a full ACV is required later.

Full life cycle assessments are comprehensive reports that meet ISO 14040/14044 international standards for life cycle assessment. The data may be used for internal evaluation purposes and in the public domain when performing a stand-alone evaluation or when comparing multiple products or packaging systems. In the event of a public release of a study, ISO standards suggest peer review, which is often done for companies that go this route by an external group or party. An example of a full LCA is a comparative study titled ‘Beverages and food packaging in Australia and New Zealand’ which was recently commissioned by Tetra Pak Oceania.

Benefits of Life Cycle Analysis

Integrating LCAs into all areas of the business has many benefits, including reducing environmental impacts, optimizing packaging material choices, improving a product’s durability and lifespan. life and improving your triple bottom line. Life cycle analysis can also help make more informed decisions about sustainability and carbon footprint. These decisions are made easier when a packaging technologist incorporates life cycle assessment into packaging design.

When getting started with using an ACV, it is important to note that the process is not a silver bullet. An LCA should be viewed as a process of investigation and comparison to identify areas for improvement throughout the life of your product and its packaging. An LCA is simply one more tool in the tool belt to ensure that decisions are well-informed and science-based.

As Dr. Karli Verghese FAIP says in his book Packaging for sustainability“Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can produce compelling evidence that intuition is no longer enough.”

Image credit: ©