Shutterstock 2041962542

Everything You Need to Know About Carbon Neutral Packaging

  • 16th February 2022
  • 10 min read

Following the UK’s pledge to reduce gas emissions by 68%, and the EU pledging 55% respectively (in comparison to 1990 levels), carbon prices are rising.  Last year, the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) started trading and opened carbon prices over £50/tCO2e in line with the UK’s ambitious emissions reduction plans (KPMG). 

When organisations look at ways they can reduce carbon emissions, their practices and processes are reviewed, which reduces operating costs, material costs, improving productivity and efficiency, all of which is beneficial to their bottom line. Read our guide on sustainable packaging. 

One effective way businesses can decrease their carbon footprint is by opting for low carbon or carbon neutral packaging materials and processes. 

 

Shutterstock 1717600543

What is carbon neutral packaging? 

For packaging materials and processes to be carbon neutral, the amount of Co2 the packaging releases into the atmosphere  (from production to transport and waste),  must be balanced by the same amount (or more) of Co2 being removed or offset elsewhere in the packaging process. 

For example, in 2021 potato company Root Zero launched the UK’s first carbon neutral potato with paper-based packaging. 

Their packaging aims to prevent “more than five and a half tonnes of plastic arriving on supermarket shelves.” and uses water based inks and adhesive technology so that it can be recycled into high-quality paper or used to store vegetables. In order to become completely carbon neutral, Root Zero are investing in carbon offsetting projects to neutralise their emissions. 

Which packaging has the lowest carbon footprint? 

The type of packaging a company uses does matter - especially when plastic packaging is so dominant and accounts for 42% of plastic produced globally

Glass

Glass packaging is often used in the cosmetics food industries as it is safe, nonporous and non-toxic. 

In most cases, glass has a long life and leans towards closed-loop recycling because it can be recycled and reused again and again. 

Manufacturing glass has a really big carbon footprint because of the amount of energy it requires. Additionally, glass is fragile and heavy, it poses challenges during transportation. Due to its weight, there are transportation constraints, increasing emissions. 

There are some instances where glass can’t be recycled due to high costs and the need for special equipment.

Aluminium 

Aluminium is used across several sectors, including electronics, food and transportation as it is non-toxic, versatile and lightweight. Aluminium caters towards closed-loop recycling as it can be reused and recycled endlessly, and this process has a low carbon footprint.  

Because it is lightweight so much more can be transported, reducing transportation emissions. 

The initial production of aluminium varies depending on the source of energy used during the production process. According to ClimateAction, the carbon footprint ranges from less than four tonnes of Co2 per tonne of aluminium to 10 tonnes of Co2.

Paper and cardboard 

Paper and cardboard are used across a wide range of industries, including retail, food, and manufacturing. Both materials come from trees, which is renewable resource. These materials don’t have any wastage, leakage or harmful dyes that impact the environment. 

Cardboard and paper are lightweight materials that promote closed-loop recycling and don't need oil to manufacture them. Due to their weight, much more can be transported, reducing costs and transportation emissions. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) cardboard ensures all cardboard and paper comes from renewable sources.

Plastic 

Plastic is one of the most popular packaging materials and is used across several sectors, from healthcare to food, beauty and more, due to its versatility and durability. 

The UK government is introducing a plastic packaging tax in April 2022, so that businesses use recycled plastic instead of non-recycled plastic packaging. 

According to CIEL, 3.5kg of Co2 is emitted per kilogram of plastic that’s manufactured, but recycled plastic has a much lower carbon footprint, which was shown in a 2018 life cycle assessment

How to implement a carbon neutral packaging process 

Understand the impact 

Calculate your carbon footprint

Companies must understand the impact of their packaging process and benchmark their carbon footprint. But this isn’t easy to do. However, organisations can understand how to improve by doing the following 

  • Identify the sources of emissions that rely on fossil fuels and produce carbon dioxide
  • Collect quantified data on this 

There are basic carbon footprint calculators available online that might be able to help, but getting an accurate figure can be really difficult. It is best to speak to packaging consultants who can help with ballpark targets to aim for.

Undertake a competitor analysis

By looking at what other companies and competitors are doing, businesses can get a gauge on what is and isn’t achievable. It's also a great way to generate new ideas and improve on what’s already out there. 

Collaborate with the supply chain 

Companies should ensure that the businesses they work with in the supply chain have carbon neutral strategies in place, so that sustainable practices are felt throughout the supply chain. 

For example, companies that use corrugated cardboard packaging should ensure they’re buying their cardboard from FSC certified suppliers. This means their cardboard is being sourced from a responsibly managed and renewable source.

This is a big job in and of itself, but can be executed with ease when you employ packaging consultants who have insight,  knowledge and experience. 

Shutterstock 1495891703

Set your goals and strategy

Once the groundwork is in place, businesses must set targets to work towards, so that they can reflect and measure progress. When deciding these goals, managers and business owners must ask the following questions: 

  • What types of materials do they want to reduce the use of in their packaging portfolio? 
  • How much do they want to increase the use of compostable, reusable and recyclable materials? 
  • How much do they want to decrease their current carbon footprint? 
  • What will their primary and secondary types of packaging be? 
  • What packaging materials are in scope?
  • Are there any offsetting projects to offset any carbon emissions to join? 

Make sustainability part of your brand’s values 

A business’s commitment to carbon neutrality should extend to more than just packaging. 

When business owners and managers incorporate sustainability into their brand values, it becomes part of their culture. Everything they do and their customers do has an impact. 

Managers should also ensure that their employees have the right training and support to ensure that products are packaged efficiently, improving productivity and profitability. It is important that stakeholders communicate with their staff and let them know just how beneficial their work is to the environment.

Look at automation and machines 

Packaging machinery such as void fill machinery, automated tapers and pallet wrap machines help package products efficiently and result in less waste. They also reduce the risk of any human-errors. 

One simple way of improving the packaging process is by switching from manual tapers to water activated tape machines - they are much more efficient and eliminate the need for plastic. 

Machinery that runs on renewable energy is more sustainable than those that run on fossil fuels - if there is scope to implement solar, hydro or wind power, this will help companies become carbon neutral. 

Don’t discredit plastic 

The connotations surrounding plastic isn’t great, but not all plastic is bad. Recycled plastic has a much lower footprint than virgin plastic, and is a cost-effective, versatile and sustainable packaging material that avoids plastic tax.  

Because it is lightweight, more can be transported in one journey, reducing costs and emissions, along with taking up less warehouse space. 

Partner with net-zero couriers 

Businesses should strive to partner with net zero couriers who are doing their bit to ensure their transportation is carbon neutral.  For example, the delivery service DPD is deploying electric vehicles across their fleet in order to comply with the government’s Road to Zero Strategy

Educate your customers on how to recycle or repurpose your packaging 

It’s important to educate consumers on how to recycle, repurpose or reuse packaging. Companies should ensure the recycling symbol is clearly printed, along with any other instructions in regards to how consumers can reuse or recycle packaging. 

This is something fashion retailer FatFace does really well. They have a video on their website demonstrating how customers can reuse their paper bags as Christmas wrapping paper. Find out more here.

 

  • Measure the impact 

Companies need to measure the impact of their efforts so that they can understand how close they are to implementing carbon neutral packaging. This can be done by 

  • Liaising with the supply chain to recognise the influence and impact to the packaging portfolio 
  • Investing in packaging consultants to ensure all packaging is designed for with recyclability at its core
  • Staying up to date with the latest packaging technologies
  • Measuring success and progress against preset goals and target 
  • Displaying sustainability efforts and credentials in their  packaging portfolio
  • Sharing progress reports through internal and external communication

Work with packaging consultants who are committed to sustainability

When you work with packaging consultants who strive towards a greener future, transitioning to carbon neutral packaging becomes much easier. 

Titan strives to deliver low carbon and sustainable packaging processes - it is in our DNA, and we're working towards ISO9001. We’re also working with Ecologi to offset our carbon emissions as we strive towards a net zero future. 

For companies with hundreds of products, knowing where to begin can be quite difficult, so it’s worth speaking to our packaging experts. We’ll review your packaging process from start to finish and help you transition to a more sustainable, cost-effective packaging process that follows the plastic tax guidance. Get in touch.

Titan 035 Edit
Written by: Anna Punch Sales Director

Want to talk to a Titan?

Drop us a line and a member of our team will be in touch.