We spoke to sustainability and waste management expert Roland Fehringer about the eco-balance of beverage packaging.
Sustainability in beverage production and packaging is no longer a smart asset but has become a must-have. The demands of consumers, political conditions and the environment burdened by various factors demonstrate the need for this. What does that mean for beverage packaging?
Roland Fehringer (https://www.c7-consult.at/) has been dealing with the lifecycle for 25 years. In the 1990s, topics of Austrian and European waste management and resource management were topics, today there are increasingly issues of global sustainable development. In between are several 100 projects, countless products evaluated, award-winning sustainability reports and certifications according to the Austrian Ecolabel.
The sustainability consultant makes it clear: "No material is automatically bad for the environment." And: "The ideal packaging itself does not exist!"
Basically, there are the following types of packaging for drinks:
Which package is the best in the end depends on the type of product in the first step. "Often it is forgotten that the packaging fulfills important functions such as protective function, storage and transport function or the information function for ingredients, sugar content, best before date, barcode or disposal notice," Fehringer points to concerns.
Whether milk, mineral water, lemonades or juice - each beverage has its own requirements for the packaging. Milk drinks and beer are best kept in a dark, light-protected packaging, as they suffer from sunlight.
"Although the glass bottle is often used for milk, it is not the best choice," says expert Fehringer. "The fact that milk is often bottled in glass bottles has emotional causes. Since milk is a natural product, a glass bottle is frequently associated with special cleanliness and is therefore often chosen as packaging. "
Especially with milk, you have to distinguish between fresh milk and long-life milk. For example, fresh milk uses a beverage composite carton without an aluminum layer, while long-life milk, like juice, requires an aluminum layer in the beverage carton.
Beer and lemonade also have special packaging requirements: "Because of the carbon dioxide it contains, none of these drinks are in the composite carton," says Roland Fehringer. "A lemonade always needs a dimensionally stable packaging to keep the carbonic acid."
For PET bottles, one differentiates between disposable and returnable products. PET returnable bottles have a thicker wall than PET disposable bottles. While environmentalists generally vilify every form of plastic, PET bottles are actually better in terms of their eco-balance than their reputation: their low weight saves resources during production and energy during transport.
Decisive for the appropriate choice of packaging in terms of its sustainability is thus, among other things, the length of the transport route. Reusable bottles are suitable if the transport distance from the filling site to the supermarket is not too long: "For long distances of more than 200 km, the CO2 emissions from the exhaust gases are so high that PET disposable bottles are more environmentally friendly than reusable bottles," says Fehringer. Finally, the returnable bottles would then have to be returned to the bottler, which means twice the distance.
"Decisive for the eco-balance of a reusable bottle is not only the transport route but also its number of cycles", says Roland Fehringer. For example, a glass returnable bottle should be in circulation 15 to 20 times for a good life cycle assessment, a PET returnable bottle at least 8 to 10 times. Bottles that have a lower circulation number complete their lifecycle with a poor life cycle assessment, even if they are reusable.
In fact, each truck in Austria may reach a maximum weight of 38 tons with loading. The rule is that the lighter the packaging, the more liters of drinks can be transported by truck. For example, a glass bottle alone weighs 500 grams, while a one-way PET bottle weighs just 25 grams!
In the case of glass bottles, especially the bottle is transported, but in the case of boxes, cans and PET bottles, it is above all the beverage that is brought to the desired location. That makes the transport efficient.
The shape of the packaging also plays a role: Cone-shaped glass bottles require more space than cans or beverage cartons.
Roland Fehringer summarizes the key parameters that determine whether one beverage packaging is more environmentally friendly than another is:
"The" best packaging does not exist. Which package is the best in terms of sustainability depends on a number of factors, such as the type of drink, the length of the transport route, the weight of the packaging, the amount of recycled material and the number of cycles. One-way bottles made of glass are too heavy. For long transport routes, refillable returnable bottles are not very ecologically efficient.
You can download the current ALPLA LCA Packaging Report and Review "LCA for packaging made of PET and other materials" here:
Director of Marketing & Communication