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Life Cycle Assessment: Coffee Packaging Case Study

Ground coffee is enjoyed by many people throughout the world. The average American drinks 3.2 cups a day! But have you ever considered the packaging coffee comes in? Surprisingly, you have many options, and we encourage you to check out the sustainability benefits before deciding which ground coffee to purchase. In this coffee packaging study, a 12 oz. stand-up flexible pouch, an 8 oz. steel can, and a 10.8 oz. plastic canister were evaluated for their environmental impacts, with a full beginning to end life cycle.

When comparing the water consumption, carbon impact, and material disposal position within a full life cycle of these packaging options, the case study found:                

  • Water Consumption: 
    • The steel can uses 16x as much water as the stand-up flexible pouch, mainly during the material development stage.
    • The plastic canister consumes 2x as much water as the stand-up flexible pouch due to water usage during the injection molding process.
  • Carbon Impact: The plastic canister and steel can respectively emit 4x and 7x more GHG emissions than the stand-up flexible pouch.
  • Fossil Fuel Consumption: A steel can and plastic canister respectively use 453% and 518% more fossil fuel than a stand-up flexible pouch.

According to the U.S. EPA Waste Hierarchy, the most preferred method for waste management is source reduction, or using less resources to produce and reuse the packaging. Flexible stand-up pouches use less water and energy to produce, are lighter and more efficient for shipping purposes, contribute to the reduction of food waste, and are resealable. This helps to reduce waste before it even has the chance to be created!

When evaluating recovery benefits, the study found that stand-up flexible pouches send far less materials to landfills compared to the other packaging options:

  • The plastic canister’s recycling rate would need to jump from 34% to 84% to have the same net discards as the stand-up flexible pouch
  • The steel can’s recycling rate would need to increase from 71% to 93% to match the stand-up flexible pouches’ amount of landfilled material

As you can see, the stand-up flexible pouch is a more environmentally friendly and sustainable option when it comes to packaging. Its low carbon impact, fossil fuel usage, water usage, and amount of material to landfill all contribute to flexible packaging’s environmental attributes. Not to mention, stand-up flexible pouches also have a high product-to-package ratio, meaning you’ll have more fresh coffee to enjoy!

To view the full coffee packaging case study, visit flexpack.org. For more information and methodologies of the assessments, visit www.flexpack.org to download Flexible Packaging Association’s “A Holistic View of the Role of Flexible Packaging in a Sustainable World” report and refer to pages 129-166.

Environmental Benefits of Flexible Packaging

For many consumers, assessing the sustainability of packaging revolves around its ability to be recycled. However, there are many more factors that go into what makes a product environmentally friendly. Considering the entire lifespan, from production to transportation to how it is repurposed or recycled can alter how we think about the sustainability of our packaging choices.

The case for flexible packaging begins with its production. Flexible packages use fewer raw materials, less energy and less resources to produce compared to traditional forms of packaging. When flexible packages are ready to be transported, they are lightweight, allowing more units to be moved at once, reducing the cost and environmental resources used during the process. With the rise of e-commerce, this benefits online shoppers by saving them money on shipping costs and resealable packaging options for easy returns! As for the products inside flexible packages, their lifespan is extended thanks to innovative plastics engineering. For food goods, their lifespan can be increased drastically, which contributes to the reduction of food waste at home. Because one-third of American households dispose of food products before they are consumed, reducing food waste is a major benefit of flexible packaging.

While flexible packages can be resealed and reused, they also have recycling capabilities. Currently, approximately 50% of flexible packaging can be recycled through in-store drop-off programs. To find a drop-off program near you, use our Terracycle database! Flexible packaging also typically sends less material to landfills because it uses fewer materials than other types of packaging. To learn more about the flexible packaging industry’s efforts to improve recycling, click here!

For these reasons, flexible packaging is becoming the first choice for manufacturers, brands and consumers alike. We are so excited to watch the flexible packaging industry continue to create sustainable packaging innovations, fight food waste, and optimize end of life cycle options. To continue reading about the environmental benefits of flexible packaging, visit our site here!

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