The 2018 Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on behalf of the FKN (Fachverband Kartonverpackungen für flüssige Nahrungsmittel e.V.) comparing beverage cartons in Germany with disposable PET and returnable glass bottles in the segments juice/nectars, UHT and fresh milk confirms the results of previous LCAs from the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) in 1995 and 2000/2002 stating the favourable positioning of beverage cartons.
The final report of the study, which has been created in accordance with the new methodological requirements of the UBA and approved by the latter, has been reviewed and updated in 2020.
Object of investigation and result
Clear advantage in terms of climate protection
In the category “climate change”, beverage cartons are superior to all other packaging types. According to the valuation method of the Federal Environmental Agency, CO2 emissions have the highest environmental priority.
The results across all impact categories
Who is the FKN?
The association, founded in 1981 and based in Berlin, represents the common interests of the beverage carton producers: its members are SIG Combibloc, Tetra Pak and Elopak. They constitute about 95% of beverage cartons distributed in Germany.
The FKN has two subsidiaries:
ReCarton GmbH has been handling the recycling of used beverage cartons from the Dual System since the early 1990s.
Palurec GmbH is a newly formed subsidiary which will soon recycle the residual materials, the polyethylene-aluminium-reject, coming from the paper mills.
What exactly was examined?
The Life Cycle Assessment analyses all environmental aspects and impacts related to a product. The environmental impacts of the complete product life cycle are taken into account (“from cradle to grave”).
It contains all environmental burdens during
- Utilisation phase
as well as all previous and subsequent processes, such as the production of raw materials, consumables and supplies.
Minimum Standard – Why?
Life Cycle Assessment is living science and ever evolving. Yet, the studies were often subject to controversial public debates, which mainly addressed the issues of packaging weights, recycling rates and recirculation rates of reusable packaging as well as methodical aspects such as system allocation or the question of impact assessment.
After three years of research, the Federal Environmental Agency published extended requirements for the preparation of life cycle assessments (UBA text 19/2016). It contains mandatory rules of procedure, which standardise the quality of the studies, bring their results to a comparable level and enable the development of verifiable assessments.
Beverage carton producers are first in this sector to meet these new requirements. Due to the pilot character of the study, the UBA was involved in the process from the beginning on.
What about recycling?
Recycling alone does not make for ecologically advantageous packaging; rather, it is primarily the high bio-based content of beverage cartons that contributes to the positive life cycle assessment.
Despite the high recycling rates (currently 77.7%), the influence of recycling on the overall ecological result for beverage cartons is relatively low.