Aseptic packaging sustainability: Vol. 3 – SUP and net plastic content

Aseptic packaging sustainability: Vol. 3 – SUP and net plastic content

In the second episode of our brand-new series “Aseptic packaging sustainability”, we talked about Global Warming Potential, i.e. a widely-used method to compare the impact of different greenhouse gas emissions over a 100-year time horizon, through a common baseline identified in the form of 1 ton of CO2.

Moving forward onto the next topic, in part three we are finally having a look at the so-called “net plastic content”, that is the overall amount of plastic contained in each type of packaging.

Powered by the insane sights of massive garbage patches floating in the water – 85% of marine pollution is indeed due to plastic waste - and threatening our ecosystem, the movement to cut the use of fossil-based plastics has never been so popular and high in the global agenda.

Now, when it comes to packaging, the amount of plastic detectable in each type of container – whether it is carton bricks or PET and glass bottles -, has become a key indicator, that people and governments look at to try and reduce their own footprint.

The new EU Single-Use Plastics Directive

The Single-Use Plastics Directive passed by the European Union in 2019 is a clear sign of the holistic effort to curb such environmental damage and turn off the tap of endless plastic pollution.

Setting a wide-reaching legislative framework, SUP Directive eventually came into force in July 2021 and includes a broad set of measures, such as product bans, design requirements, plastic bottles collection targets, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) obligations and awareness-raising actions.

As for packaging and containers, the SUP directive set a mandatory goal for EU member states, requiring them to collect 77% of single-use plastic bottles with caps and lids by 2025, with an ultimate target of 90% by 2029.

In compliance with the design requirements, all manufacturers are also expected to use 25% recycled content in PET beverage bottles by 2025, bringing it to a further 30% in all plastic bottles by 2030. Moreover, starting from July 2024, single-use plastic products will only be allowed to enter the market if caps and lids remain attached to the containers over their entire life cycle – especially during the intended use stage -.

Net plastic content: are carton bricks less dependent on plastic?

Aside from glass bottles, from a net plastic content point of view, today aseptic beverage cartons are the go-to option for those who are trying to less their impact on the environment, being low-carbon, recyclable packaging solutions that are less dependent on plastic compared to other types of PET bottles and containers.

According to FH Campus Wien circular analytic and a detailed report by audit company Deloitte, if EU recycling and collecting goals for PET bottles set for 2025 and 2030 are to be met, they would most likely result in a recycling output rate of 63% for a 90% collecting rate.

Now, depending on the mass of PET bottle, continue researches from FH Campus Wien, “this will result in a plastic consumption of 11 to 14 g per liter”, which, in the end, is slightly larger than beverage cartons, which on its own, without even considering the recycling process, require between 5 and 12 g of plastic per liter.

What it means, is that aseptic cartons have a much lower plastic consumption than PET bottles, which are, of course, comprised of 100% plastic; in other words, even if 90% of all PET bottles are collected eventually, “they will still consume more plastic compared to beverage cartons”.

Carton bricks are, indeed, made of a multilayer material featuring about 75% paperboard deriving from wood fibers and a some very thin layers coming from aluminum and plastic – or other synthetic polymers – which, however, can be easily produced from bio-based raw materials too, such as sugar cane. And the same goes bio-based caps and paper straws, both of which are obtained from renewable sources.

Of course, the figures may vary slightly, depending on the packaging’s size, shape and function but what stands out is that aseptic cartons featuring materials mainly made from wood fibers, have a significantly higher green, renewable component than other packaging solutions.

In part four of our brand-new series we will move the discussion forward and dive into the advantages of going aseptic by having a look at the overall efficiency of each type of packaging, trying to understand which one has the lowest gram per liter ratio.

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