Aseptic packaging sustainability: Vol. 4 – Packaging efficiency

Aseptic packaging sustainability: Vol. 4 – Packaging efficiency

In the third episode of our series “Aseptic packaging sustainability”, we discussed about the new EU SUP directive and its consequences for packaging and containers as for net plastic content requirements.

In the fourth episode, it is now time to examine the so-called “packaging efficiency”, that is the average amount of packaging material required to wrap a product up.

The three levels of packaging

Unless you do packaging for a living, you may not know that there are three main levels of packaging, that are primary, secondary, and tertiary . Is there any significant difference between all of them? The short answer is: yes, even though they sometimes overlap. How do they affect the packing and shipping process? Let’s break it down.

Often referred to as consumer or retail packaging, primary packaging is the one that is in direct contact with the product, serving as an efficient tool to protect and preserve the product while attracting and informing the consumer on the supermarket shelf . When it comes to the liquid food and beverage industry, carton bricks, bottles and/or cans are the perfect example of primary packaging.

Secondary packaging mainly serves displaying and logistical purposes, meaning that it is used during the shipping process to protect products already wrapped up in primary packaging, providing branding recognition in the meantime. Nonetheless, these in-the-middle level also includes packaging used to display products in retail locations such as grocery stores or supermarket isles.

Last but not least, tertiary packaging. Rarely seen by consumers, its main goal is to facilitate the protection, handling, storing and transportation of a series of sales unit – or secondary packaging -, loading them into a single distribution unit to further smoothen loading and unloading activities. Tertiary packaging usually includes pallets and shipping containers.

Primary Secondary Tertiary Packaging

Packaging efficiency: cartons bricks vs. PET and glass bottles

Beverage cartons have a significantly higher packaging efficiency than PET and, most importantly, glass bottles, as they require only low amount of packaging material.

According to a meta-analysis by FH Campus Wien, “the total mass of primary packaging includes the mass of the base material, as well as that of closures, sleeves, labels and other packaging aids”, and it can be easily measured in terms of gram packaging per liter beverage.

The research showed that both beverage cartons and PET bottles have a much better packaging efficiency than glass bottles, whose median packaging efficiency is approximately between 416 and 611 g of packaging per liter.

Beverage cartons seem to have lowest packaging to product mass ratio (29-36 g) - which is even less than that of PET bottles (31-38 g) -.

This is utterly good news! Even though the packaging efficiency difference between beverage cartons and PET bottles is not fully statistically significant, carton bricks still to show off a way better holistic performance compared to PET bottles, which, unlike cartons, do lack efficiency in terms of GWP, net plastic content, transport efficiency and sustainable resource management.

Such a minor ratio is, in the end, one of the main reasons why beverage cartons have such a superior environmental performance, as they not only are mainly comprised of renewable materials, but also have great packaging and transport efficiency.

In part five of our brand-new series we will take a further step and have a look at the transport efficiency – i.e. the amount of packaging units that can fit in a truck - of PET and glass bottles compared to beverage cartons.

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