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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.