Quantitative environmental indicators
Apart from the most common environmental impact categories in lifecycle assessment, such as climate change (measured in terms of carbon footprint), water consumption (measured by water footprint), and others such as acidification, toxicity, smog, use of soil, non-renewable resources, etc., there are other quantifiable indicators of the efficiency of our production systems and processes.
The indicators that can be used to assess packaging include: quantity of energy, quantity of material, quantity of waste, weight/volume ratio, service life, etc. Moreover, some indicators provide information on circularity, such as: the Material Circularity Indicator (Ellen MacArthur Foundation), the reparability rate, number of uses and the recyclability rate.
Sometimes, improving one indicator makes another worse. For example, extending the service life of a product may require increasing the quantity of material used in the packaging. To ensure that a system is well evaluated from an environmental perspective, it is important to obtain several indicators and to check that they follow similar patterns. However, society often requires simple messages and opts for single indicators. In the packaging sector at this point in time, perhaps the most important indicators are carbon footprint and recyclability.
Carbon footprint is a well-documented indicator in lifecycle assessment and is widely accepted as the best environmental assessment methodology. This methodology is standardised by means of the ISO 14000 series, which has been reviewed many times and features totally consolidated third party certification mechanisms.
In contrast, it can be said that the recyclability indicator has been perverted due to the absence of standards of sufficient specificity and rigour, the lack of eco-labelling programmes with coherent procedures manuals and the lack of an accredited external certification mechanism. This has led to a proliferation of companies issuing internally-produced recyclability declarations using different assessment mechanisms, often offering results of 100% recyclability (which is practically impossible). Such declarations are more greenwashing strategies than real solutions. This is undoubtedly the dark side of recyclability.
Prof. Dr. Pere Fullana i Palmer Director. UNESCO Chair in Lifecyle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF
Raquel Iglesias Iglesias CEO. Dríade Soluciones Medioambientales
Victoria Ferrer Maymó CEO. Gremi de Recuperació de Catalunya
Mireia Andreu Robert Project Manager. Packaging Cluster
Published in: FuturENVIRO Nº 70 May-June 2020