After examining an updated life cycle assessment by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg (IFEU), the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) has come to the conclusion that the beverage carton does not perform worse than the reusable bottle for fruit juices – and even better for milk.
The IFEU Institute had already presented a pilot study in July 2019, which was prepared according to the new methodological requirements of the UBA. Due to incorrect distribution data, the German Association of Carton Packaging for Liquid Foodstuffs e.V. (FKN) in consultation with the UBA decided to have the study completely revised. This was also to address criticism about allegedly too high CO2 and recycling credits.
“The results are not surprising,” explains FKN Managing Director Michael Kleene. “They confirm the findings of all life cycle assessments of the last 20 years. Beverage cartons have clear advantages, especially in terms of climate impact. This applies both in comparison to disposable plastic bottles and to reusable systems. Reusable is not always and in all beverage segments the only ecologically advantageous solution,” Kleene continues.
The study provides in-depth insights into the current state of the scientific debate and shows where the strengths and weaknesses of the individual types of packaging lie and where they can be optimized. One fundamental finding is that the public focus on high recycling rates often leads to the wrong conclusions: “Recycling alone does not make packaging ecologically advantageous,” explains Kleene. A plastic bottle in the deposit system still performs worse than reusable bottles and beverage cartons even if recyclates are used. At least as important as more and better recycling, therefore, is offering packaging that uses as few fossil resources as possible during production and thus contributes to the goal of a low-carbon economy. Manufacturers of beverage cartons have announced that by 2030 at the latest, throughout Europe they will only offer packaging that is made entirely from renewable or recycled raw materials.
“Making out the beverage carton to be a climate killer is demonstrably false. Apart from that, there are still plenty of areas in need of improvement when it comes to reusable packaging. Just think of the issues of distribution, individual containers, and circulation figures,” Kleene said. Background: The FKN, based in Berlin, represents the common interests of beverage carton manufacturers. Members of the association are the companies Tetra Pak GmbH, SIG Combibloc GmbH and Elopak GmbH. They represent around 95 percent of the German market. The FKN has two subsidiaries: ReCarton GmbH has been organizing the recycling of used beverage cartons from the Dual System since the early 1990s. Various packaging papers are produced from the paper fibers. With the start-up of the Palurec recycling plant in April 2021, it will also be possible to recycle the plastic and aluminum residues that cumulate after the paper fibers have been separated.