Category 18 April 2019

Life cycle-thinking and eco-design: reducing packaging waste and carbon footprint

Supported through the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) innovation voucher scheme, C-Tech Innovation worked with Halen Môn to redesign their product packaging, using an approach informed by life-cycle thinking. This method helped identify a solution that reduced not only material use and carbon footprint but also realised significant cost savings. 

The challenge:

More than 150kg of packaging waste is generated per capita in the European Union each year.

The way packaging is designed is of critical importance, not only for waste reduction and the recovery of recyclable materials but also for CO2 emissions. The challenge for eco-designers is to reduce the overall environmental impact of product packaging, while at the same time maintaining or improving economic, technical and social performance.

The measure:

Halen Môn, an SME in Wales, United Kingdom, received an innovation voucher to assess the company’s resource use and waste management, as well as help in setting up a sustainable strategy. The voucher was awarded by the ReMake scheme, administered by WRAP Cymru, and financed by the Welsh Government and EU-CIP.

The voucher gave Halen Môn access to external technical, business and innovation expertise, in this case from C-Tech Innovation Ltd., to develop a new range of sustainable packaging.

After analysing Halen Môn’s needs – based on its products, organisation, marketing, etc. - C-Tech Innovation proposed three different packaging concepts. The three concepts, from three different materials – bamboo, steel and plastic, were then evaluated with regard to a range of factors: system, user-friendliness, sustainability, brand and cost. This helped to appraise their economic and technical performance, as well as the potential environmental benefits.

The sustainability measure was based on a detailed life-cycle analysis (LCA). This considers the environmental impact of product packaging from cradle to grave or cradle to cradle - from raw material gathering through manufacturing and use to recovery and disposal.

This decision support tool ascertained that plastic pouches with a cardboard header were the most beneficial option. This design would reduce the total material use by 50% compared to the old packaging, as well as utilising only recycled materials. The LCA showed that the plastic pouches would have an 80% lower carbon footprint than the previous design, with local sourcing a contributing factor.

As well as the environmental benefits, this eco-design also resulted in significant cost savings. The improvements in shape and weight of the new packaging helped reduce stock holding costs as well as transportation costs.

Lessons learnt:

It was a challenge to create a design which, as well as improving environmental performance, was compatible with Halen Môn’s production operations. The packaging was a success due to the comprehensiveness of the design process. The use of LCA generates a complete picture of environmental performance, ensuring the most optimal solution is implemented. Furthermore, by integrating non-environmental factors such as user-friendliness, brand impact/continuity and cost into the decision making process, care was taken to make sure the new design also made good business sense for the client.

The action also shows the value of innovation voucher schemes, without which Halen Môn may not have received such expert assistance, and the resulting environmental and economic gains would not have materialised.

Further deployment:

As well as being a good practice for larger companies, this action has shown how eco-design and LCA thinking can also bring added value to SMEs. By delivering economic benefit – as well as reducing environmental impact – for a relatively small investment, many firms should look to replicate the practice. Estimated GML beyond 9.