Food Packaging and Energy Use
It’s a weighty subject
Like most of us, you’ve undoubtedly seen or even purchased food products packaged in retortable cartons. While freshness, taste, and brand interaction are factors that often influence our decisions to buy a carton-packaged food, consumers are also drawn to the environmental advantages of cartons compared to similar foods packaged in metal cans or glass jars.
Cartons are made from paperboard that comes from well-managed forests and controlled sources, making them a popular environmental choice. While it’s easy to see how cartons are more sustainable than cans or jars, there’s another environmental advantage about which most consumers probably aren’t aware: the amount of energy it takes to produce and deliver food products in different types of packaging.
A big energy saving attribute of the retortable carton is weight. Because cartons are made of primarily of paperboard, they are significantly lighter than steel cans. For example, in a Franklin & Associates study that compared Tetra Recart®packaging with cans to determine which packaging option is more energy efficient, a 500 ml Tetra Recart®total package weighed in at 26.6 grams while an 18.6 ounce (550 ml) steel tipped the scales at 78.2 grams. Looking at that data In terms of percentages, Tetra Recart® packages comprise only 4% packaging weight versus 96% product weight. Conversely, the typical steel can accounts for 13% packaging weight, leaving only 87% of the weight as product.
That’s heavy, man.
Obviously, the heavier something is, the more difficult it is to ship: more mass requires more energy to move. Also, because cartons are rectangular and not round, they are more efficient to pack and ship. In most cases, cartons require 33% less space on a pallet than cans and jars.
Aside from the power required to move the product, a great deal of energy is used in processing. Significant heat is needed to cook and sterilize foods. Because cartons offer a superior surface area to product ratio, the food in the container is heated more quickly, therefore requiring considerably less energy for the sterilization process.
The Franklin & Associates study determined that the combination of longer sterilization time and greater weight results in steel cans requiring twice as much energy for production, packaging, and shipping during their life cycle as cartons. Cans also cause the production of three times the amount of CO2 emissions and two and a half times more waste.Furthermore, a large percentage of the energy used for can systems is fossil (non-renewable) energy. Tetra Recart® has a larger share of non-fossil energy, associated with biomass feedstock and process energy for paper content of the carton roll stock.
So, that should settle any debate regarding the environmental benefits of restorable cartons versus cans. But what about bottles? Wine packaging would seem to offer a good comparison category, as over the last few years you’ve undoubtedly noticed more and more wines offered in “boxes.”
A Bio Intelligence Service study of Sweden and Norway wine manufacturing and distribution sought to determine the “cradle to grave” environmental impact of different types of wine packaging. This Life Cycle Assessment assessed the “quantifiable environmental impacts of a service or product from the extraction of the materials contained within the components involved, to the treatment of these materials at the end-of-life stage.”
The Bio Intelligence Service compared a 75-centiliter bottle (weighing approximately 479.5 grams) against a 1-liter carton (weighing 38.1g). Their findings concluded that beverage cartons are the least impacting system, better than plastic and far outperforming glass.
TetraRecart® can reduce the amount of energy required to package your product while at the same time make it more marketable. To learn how, contact an IPM Foods representative today.