Carbon footprint of single-use cardboard boxes 94% higher than that of reusable plastic boxes

Wed 13/12/2023 by Richard Wilkinson

According to the results of a study carried out by the UNESCO Chair of Life Cycle and Climate Change in 2017, the end of the life cycle of reusable plastic transport packaging represents 5% of its total carbon footprint compared to the 61% that involves single-use cardboard boxes. Sahar Azarkamand, researcher with the ARECO Postdoctoral Scholarship, analysed the carbon footprint in the different stages of the life cycle of transport packaging in the distribution of fruits and vegetables in Spain.

In 2021, the European Union generated a total estimated volume of 84.3 million tons of packaging waste, which represented an increase of 6% (or 4.8 million tons) compared to 2020. From 2010 to 2021, paper and cardboard were the materials that most constituted packaging waste, representing 40.3% of the total. In contrast, plastic packaging accounted for 19% of packaging materials discarded during this period (Eurostat, 2023).

Goal 12 of the SDGs is closely related to the packaging industry. This goal strives to ‘promote sustainable consumption and production patterns’ by urging industries, businesses and consumers to prioritize recycling and waste reduction (Goal 12.5: Reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse). It also involves supporting developing countries in the transition towards more sustainable consumption practices by 2030 (UNEP, 2019). For the packaging sector, this means promoting sustainability by minimizing excess packaging and developing environmentally friendly disposal solutions for the end of a product’s life cycle.

The path to sustainable packaging begins with design and material selection; It continues through the transportation and consumer use phases and concludes with the recycling of packaging materials, which are subsequently reintegrated into end markets to create a closed-loop system. Therefore, the packaging end-of-life phase plays a crucial role in its entire life cycle.


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