Patrick Verhelst, chief marketing officer at Elopak, said the sustainability credentials of packaging solutions vary considerably.
“Choosing the right pack has several potential benefits for dairies,” Verhelst said.
“The first in reducing the overall carbon footprint of a finished product, and the second in ensuring the product is kept safe and fresh, helping to minimize waste. Packaging can also help to communicate the dairy’s commitment to the environment.”
While weighing up the options on offer can be a daunting process, it is worth noting beverage cartons have strong environmental credentials when compared with alternatives such as plastic bottles, Verhelst said. A 2018 Lifecycle Assessment study showed that, in the case of UHT milk, cartons result in 70.7% less CO2 emissions and, in the case of fresh milk, 83.6% less CO2 emissions in comparison to disposable PET bottles1.
Elopak said it was the first carbon neutral company in the industry to offer carbon neutral cartons. Having reduced the carbon footprint of its Pure-Pak cartons by 20% between 2014 and 2019, it offsets its remaining emissions while working to reduce these in line with the Science Based Targets initiative commitment to keep the rise in global average temperature below 1.5°C.
Innovation is continually driving improvements in the industry and opening up exciting new options in the field of low carbon and carbon neutral packaging, Verhelst said.
“One of the latest innovations to gain traction is Elopak’s Natural Brown Board carton, which is renewable, recyclable and has a lower CO2 footprint than conventional cartons, owing to reduced wood consumption and the elimination of the bleaching process. These are a rustic take on the company’s iconic Pure-Pak cartons, made with one less layer to allow the natural color of the wood fibers to shine through.”
Launched in 2017, today approximately 20% of the Pure-Pak milk cartons sold in Western Europe are produced with Natural Brown Board. In February 2021, the volume of these cartons surpassed 1bn units.
Verhelst said their lower CO2 footprint means an estimated 3,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions have been avoided as a result. This is equivalent to approximately 1,400 round trip flights for one person between London and New York.
Some dairies are going even further in their quest to reduce their carbon footprints.
For example, in 2020 Sweden’s second-largest dairy, Skånemejerier, decided to remove the caps on all their Hjordnära one-liter organic milk cartons. Following the move, consumers who contacted the dairy via social media and its customer service department expressed an overwhelming preference for the new easy opening feature, with 79% favoring packaging without the plastic screw top.
Since its launch, Verhelst said, Elopak’s Natural Brown Board has served as a platform for further sustainability-focused innovations, including the Pure-Pak Imagine carton, launched in 2020. This carton is a modern version of the company’s original Pure-Pak carton, containing 46% less plastic and designed with a new easy-open feature. It has no plastic screw cap, and is 100% forest-based, making it Elopak’s most environmentally-friendly carton to date.
Among those to have adopted the Pure-Pak Imagine carton are multinational dairy cooperative FrieslandCampina. The dairy’s Campina Organic line is now available in the more environment-friendly packaging in keeping with the dairy’s ‘Nourishing a better planet’ sustainability program. The new packaging saves 38% CO2 emissions compared to the old packaging, with the remaining emissions compensated to ensure it remains climate neutral.
Another early adopter of the Pure-Pak Imagine carton is Czech dairy Moravia, part of the Interlacto Group, which now uses the carton for its traditional fresh milk and has indicated it intends to use the Pure-Pak Imagine carton for a new product range in the future. Verhelst said Moravia opted for what they consider to be the most environmentally friendly packaging available to them on the market to reflect the dairy’s commitment to the environment. The move has seen Moravia save 20% more trees as a result.
“In 2021, there is still work to be done to reduce emissions further. However, there are already some great low carbon and carbon neutral options that offer dairies an easy win in advancing the overall environmental profile of their products,” Verhelst concluded.