The Long Road to Climate Neutrality
4/17/2023 Look into Europe Industry Retail Article

The Long Road to Climate Neutrality

Packaging is an energy-intensive business. With 17 percent less greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, the cartonboard industry is achieving an important goal. But there is still a long way to go before climate neutrality is achieved, as other materials also show.

The cartonboard and folding carton industry is satisfied with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The cartonboard and folding carton industry is satisfied with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
"We are proud", writes Pro Carton, the European Association of Cartonboard and Folding Carton Manufacturers, regarding the result of its study "Carbon Footprint of Carton Packaging 2023" from March. This is because it concludes that European cartonboard manufacturers have reduced their greenhouse gas footprint by a total of 24 percent from 2018 to 2021: from 326 to 249 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per ton of cartonboard.

The most important component of the CO2 footprint is emissions from fossil sources, mainly from the combustion of fossil fuels and purchased electricity. Here, the study identified a 17 percent decrease since 2018, from 1,025 to 852 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per ton of cartonboard. The study also takes into account greenhouse gas emissions from biogenic sources, mainly from the combustion of black liquor from cellulose production, and from direct land use changes, mainly from the mining of minerals for inks.

The 17 percent reduction in emissions from fossil sources is undoubtedly impressive. "Further investments in resource and energy efficiency and in renewable energy sources should lead to further reductions in the coming years," writes Pro Carton - clearly stating that cartonboard manufacturers are on the right track, but still have some way to go. 

A look at other packaging sectors 

Take glass, for example: for the first time, 20 container glass manufacturers from all over Europe are working together to build "the first large hybrid electric melting furnace powered by 80 percent green electricity," the German Glass Industry Association announced in February 2021. This would "reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50 percent." Initial results on the furnace, which is being built at the Ardagh Group in Germany, should be available in 2023. 

50 percent is an interim goal: "With this new technology, we are setting out on the road to climate-neutral glass packaging and ensuring long-term sustainable manufacturing," BV Glas quoted the Ardagh Group as saying. However, the association added in July 2022, alternative energy sources are not everything - there is "still no solution for the process-related emissions that result directly from the raw materials."

Take plastics, for example: the Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen (IK) does not formulate its targets in terms of CO2 emissions. "Waste management in all its variants must be the common political goal," writes the IK in its "Sustainability Report 2021." "In Germany, recyclability and the use of recyclates are at the top of the agenda."

Accordingly, the IK's sustainability targets are: more recyclable or reusable packaging (status 2020: 81 percent, target by 2025: 90 percent), more recycled material in new packaging (status 2019: 474,000 metric tons, target by 2025: 1 million metric tons) and mechanical recycling of silage and stretch films (status 2020: 26,500 metric tons, target by 2022: 34,000 metric tons).

The metal and wood packaging sectors do not put emissions first in their environmental statements. The Metal Packaging Association (VMV) emphasizes above all the recyclability of tinplate: steel and aluminum "they can be recycled again and again without any loss of quality." In Germany, packaging steel achieves the highest recycling rates of all packaging materials with "consistently more than 90 percent. The VMV does not provide a calculation of how much energy is required to convert the scrap into new products and what is done to reduce it.

The manufacturers of wooden packaging also hardly talk about greenhouse gases - they don't need to, they say. For example, because the energy balance is positive: "Since wood packaging is untreated wood, it can be recycled after use without further material and energy," says the German Wood Packaging, Pallets, Export Packaging Association. Grow, Association for Environmentally Friendly Wood Packaging, takes the same line: "The energy generated after using the wood packaging is significantly higher than the energy required for production."