European Commission should conduct deeper research into packaging sustainability
'To make an honest judgment about which material is the most sustainable, we need to carefully weigh all aspects against each other. But in practice, new policies are now too often determined mainly by the winners of clashing economic interests trying to exert influence.' - Steven, Senior Manager Strategy & Transformation
Most sustainable packaging material
Which is more sustainable?
In the world of packaging materials, plastic and cardboard are often diametrically opposed when it comes to sustainability. It is a complex issue involving both economic interests and sustainability impacts.
To make a fair judgment on which material is the most sustainable, we need to carefully weigh all aspects against each other. But in practice, new policies are now too often determined mainly by the winners of clashing economic interests trying to exert influence.
New packaging regulation
The European Commission wants a new packaging regulation (PPWR) to take effect by the end of 2024. The European Parliament wants to tighten this regulation even further by requiring more reuse. This will be at the expense of cardboard packaging, which is almost always recycled into new products.
Analyzing product sustainability
However, it is difficult to make an objective judgment on which material is the most sustainable, as this varies greatly from product to product. It is therefore advisable to conduct an in-depth analysis in Brussels before making a final judgment. To make a fair comparison between plastic and cardboard, the full life cycle of both materials should be considered for each different application.
Several factors need to be considered, such as energy use, water consumption, chemicals, product protection, and transport distances. Quantifying and balancing all these aspects is a complex task. This research should be based on the EU taxonomy, which already sets various sustainability standards.
Plastic vs carton
Plastic crates, such as those where fruit and vegetables are presented in supermarkets, can very often be reused. But to do so, they have to be transported to a location where they are cleaned with hot water and chemicals. Yet the plastic industry claims this outweighs the many times they can be reused and the minimal loss of produce during storage and transport (food waste).
In contrast, the cardboard industry claims that cardboard packaging is better for circularity and sustainability. Cardboard is largely recycled. Research that can show by product category which packaging material ultimately scores best in terms of sustainability would help enormously.
Knowledge, attitude and behaviour
It is also crucial to take into account the acceptance of consumers and other stakeholders. It is important to get people on board and inspire them to make more sustainable choices. If people do not want to participate in certain measures, the environmental impact will be limited. It is very important to understand that sustainability is not only about technical aspects, but also about behavioural change and acceptance.
Let us hope that the European Commission takes this issue seriously and conducts a thorough study before taking far-reaching decisions with major environmental consequences.