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How can the Food Industry reduce global warming? Use more Plastic Packaging!

How can the Food Industry reduce global warming?

Use more Plastic Packaging!

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism on the planet. It is over 1500 kilometres in length and along with its outer reefs covers an area larger than Japan. The reef is home to over 1500 species of fish, 7 species of sea snake and 6 different species of turtles. Yet this living wonder of our modern world is slowly dying, with around 33% already bleached and unable to sustain any form of coral life. Indeed, it is thought that 75% of the worlds coral reefs are threatened with extinction and at the current rate of decline could be devoid of life by the end of the Century. (Blue Planet II)

The cause of this devastation is of course global warming caused by CO2 emissions. This not only is increasing the temperature of our oceans but also creating a climate in the southern oceans where cyclones which damage the reefs, occur with greater frequency.

How can we in the packaging industry help to reduce this damage? Well we could use less;

a) Aluminium Food Packaging

Aluminium is an invaluable packaging material for food stuffs where the shelf life has to be in years, not weeks or months. Yet, unfortunately, the mining and smelting of aluminium and its manufacture into cans is by far the most environmentally damaging process of all food packaging materials.

CO₂ pollution is not just in the mining and production of the aluminium, but also the demand for massive volumes of energy used in the manufacture of the cans. In addition, on any life cycle analysis, the extra weight required for transport of heavy cans adds significantly to the number of vehicles required for haulage at every stage of the materials use, from food pre-pack to waste disposal.

The energy used to produce just one kilo of aluminium creates over 10 times the CO2 emissions required to create a kilo of polypropylene. Whist the conversion of aluminium to cans adds another 400% when compared with converting polypropylene to film. Everyone is aware aluminium has a high recycling rate due to its value, but even more CO2 is emitted during the recycling process and some 10/15% of the original material is lost in the process.

Yet bizarrely a recent Packaging News article promoted aluminium as an alternative to plastic simply due to its value on recycling and the 85% forecast recycling rate for 2020. The conclusion drawn was that cans can be used to replace plastic as they can be recycled. Obviously, it seems meeting the requirements of the Courtauld Agreement has now been disregarded.

 b) Glass food and drink packaging

The environmental damage caused by CO₂ emissions in glass manufacture is not as dramatic as aluminium. But a full life cycle analysis of glass in food packaging has to reflect not only the extra CO₂ emissions but also the extra weight of the glass transportation through every stage of the process. The weight of a glass bottle is up to 10 times the weight of a similar weight of a plastic container, thus thousands of extra lorries would be needed just for transport again from pre-filling to disposal.

In addition, the CO2 emissions generated are approximately 800% greater when comparing the life cycle of glass to an HDPE bottle and 12-14 times greater when compared to a plastic pouch. Once again, the emphasis on glass recycling fails to consider the environmental damage of CO2 and extra transport creating excessive CO₂ emissions.

c) Paper / board food packaging

The adverse environmental impact resulting from the use of paper and board appear to be much less when comparing CO2 emissions for paper/board manufacture against plastic. Indeed, the actual process of manufacture creates less CO2 for a kilo of board/paper when compared with plastic.

But there are four other adverse environmental factors to consider

  • The extra weight needed to transport paper/board compared to plastic means these materials create more CO2 emissions throughout their full life cycle than similar volumes of plastic.
  • The extra tensile strength of plastic containers means much thicker material is used when using board or paper.
  • Paper/board manufacture uses more water to produce a tonne of material than any other industry. This water is heavily polluted and the process of recovery to clean water is often non-existent in many countries. This water is simply returned, polluted, to the river.
  • As the paper/board industry grows, CO2 absorption by forests is reduced as the new trees planted take up to 20 years or more to replace those lost.

d) Plastic food and drink packaging

Low weight and low cost, 80% of plastic is recyclable with low carbon emissions in every stage of manufacturer. Its light weight enables a dramatic reduction in transport and food waste. Yet plastic when used for food packaging is vilified when it’s dumped into the oceans by China, Indonesia, and Vietnam Etc. Etc. It’s probably the only material on the planet which is held responsible for the negligence of its users.


Food waste

This was considered at length in the last blog, but a conservative estimate is that without plastic packaging food waste increases from circa 20% in developed countries with packaging to 30/40% worldwide.

As food waste is calculated to produce 170 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, some 8% of the worldwide total CO₂ emissions, it’s obvious that without plastic packaging our contribution to this total would grow and accelerate global warming.

In the UK alone food waste is calculated to cost £20 billion.



If we want the Great Barrier Reef to survive we need to reduce CO2 emissions. Using more plastic packaging to replace cans, bottles and cartons is the way the food packaging industry can make a positive contribution to saving the reef as the coral can, and will rejuvenate. Isn’t it time we all; manufacturers, convertors and retailers spoke up for the use of more plastic.

Well worth a catch up ‘Costing of the Earth’ BBC 4 23/10/2019. At last the BBC discusses both sides of the case for plastic packaging.

(All figures used are from Franklin Associates Laboratories USA)

If you have any thoughts on any items raised they would be welcome and please feel free to join me

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