HelloFresh set out to understand the climate impact of four different packaging types to identify the most climate-friendly packaging solution for its meal kits.
For this purpose, HelloFresh partnered with Planetly who carried out a Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) analysis including four types of packaging: PET-tray, tin-plated can, glass jar and lightweight pouch packaging.
With this carbon footprint study, HelloFresh is able to identify CO2e emission hotspots within the life cycles of the four packaging types, in order to support decision-making regarding the selection of products and materials.
Plastic has become a contentious issue for many companies and customers. However, plastics are still one of the main materials used in the packaging industry for food. The commercial success of plastics as a packaging product is due to a combination of flexibility, strength, lightness, stability, impermeability and ease of sterilization. With these benefits in mind, it is important to weigh up the environmental implications of using plastic packaging compared to alternatives.
Aside from plastics, alternative packaging types are commonly used in the food industry, e.g., metal cans and glass jars. The goal of this study was to provide an initial indication of the respective climate change impacts of four food-contact commercial packaging types used for the packaging of olives and dried tomatoes. The study is intended to be used as an indication of the climate impact of the packaging alternatives, to aid in internal decision-making within the company.
The study does not cover all environmental impact categories, such as impact on ecosystems, resource depletion, or ozone layer, that are also relevant and allow for a full assessment of the overall environmental performance of its packaging types. However, the impact of greenhouse gases (i.e. CO2e) are a key concern in the current climate situation.
The PCF study describes the climate impact assessment of the four packaging alternatives, based on secondary data.
The functional unit applied in the study is for one unit of packaging, able to preserve, store, and transport 100g, 70g, and 50g of dried tomatoes and/or olives from the production/filling site until the end consumer of the food.
The sensitivity of the PCF models was tested to observe their robustness and the validity of assumptions made. In the sensitivity analysis, the relationship between climate impact and recycled content was also assessed. The reuse scenario was explicitly excluded because this scenario is not yet widely used in the food industry. Furthermore, no credits from energy recovery or the expected recycling rates at end-of-life were allocated to the product systems.
The PCF has been peer-reviewed by TÜV Rheinland Energy GmbH to ensure the quality of the study.
Based on the findings of the PCF study, two important drivers were identified: the weight of the packaging and the recycled content (RC) of the main materials.
Although the life cycle emissions per gram of packaging is higher for the pouches (Figure 1), the weight of the pouch packaging is significantly lower than that of the alternative packaging archetypes calculated in the study. Therefore, the results change considerably when taking into account the weight of the packaging types per functional unit.
Because the studied lightweight pouch-packaging requires very little packaging compared to its content weight, it uses less materials overall. Not only are the emissions lower for all studied weight, but also life cycle CO2e emissions do not fluctuate as much when the contents of the packaging are increased.
Other packaging types require scaling to effectively carry out their protective function. Therefore, the material quantity increases with the content weight (see Figure 2). This increased packaging weight is associated with increased life cycle CO2e emissions.
The results in Figure 3 indicate that the pouch packaging has a smaller carbon footprint than the alternative types studied, despite a conservative model that considers the alternatives to have more recycled content than the lightweight pouches. The figure also shows that the life cycle CO2e emissions of the packaging alternatives increase significantly with increased content weight, whereas those of the pouch packaging solutions remain within a similar range.
The low weight of pouches is the main advantage of the lightweight/flexible packaging solution, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint compared to the other packaging archetypes studied.