Better soft-packed than hard
In a comprehensive eco-efficiency analysis, Südpack Verpackungen GmbH & Co. KG had various types of its packages for boiled sausage and hams investigated. The result of the analysis, which was carried out by BASF and certified by DEKRA: soft packages are clearly better than the comparable hard packages in regard to sustainability and a resource- and cost-balance.
“As a responsible packaging manufacturer, sustainability is important to us,” emphasizes Johannes Remmele, Managing Director of Südpack Verpackungen. “But such a viewpoint is usually limited to the CO2 footprint, which does not go far enough, in our view. This is why we wanted an eco-efficiency analysis that contains all relevant environmental categories, is weighted according to significance for a particular region, considers economic factors, is carried out by a neutral agency and is verified by a third.”
The eco-efficiency analysis illuminated the entire life of the investigated products: from granulate manufacture to film production and packaging process to transport, waste disposal and material utilization. Environmental effects were considered just as much as economic factors. For the eco-balance part of the study, essential requirements of the DIN EN ISO 14040 and 14044 were followed. In major aspects, however, the eco-efficiency analysis goes beyond these norms, e.g. by incorporating costs and aggregated ecological pressures according to the portfolio.
Two different scenarios were investigated in detail. The first compared one million packages of 400 µ Ecopet for 1 kg boiled sausage with the corresponding number of Multifol GA 170 µ soft film packaging. The basic assumption was that regardless of the packaging type, the same number of primary packaging units would always fit in one carton. The second scenario compared one million packages of 375 µ Ecopet for 200 g of sliced ham, likewise compared to a Multifol GA 170 µ soft film packaging. In this scenario, however, the changed packaging concept enabled six additional units to be packaged in one carton. The non-reclosable packages wandered to the refrigerated foods area but had comparable atmospheric barriers and thus, the same food-preservation characteristics.
Over a period of six months, extensive analyses and evaluations were made for both scenarios. In both cases, the eco-efficiency analysis reached a clear conclusion: flexible packaging consumes much less resources than hard packaging – and thus pollutes the environment to a distinctly lower degree. Both according to ecological categories like emission ratios, energy and resource consumption, toxicity and risk potential as well as cost-weighting in terms of materials, transport and waste disposal, the soft packages were much better. This significant difference was still true even when various parameters were changed, such as simulation of lower waste disposal fees or other reuses of trash.
The differences between hard and soft packaging are especially clear when more units can be packaged in one carton due to conversion from MAP to vacuum packaging. In a practical trial with packages of sliced ham, this resulted in an increase of six more units per carton – from 30 to 36. Projected to one million primary packages, this would mean a reduction of the number of cartons from 33,334 to 27,778 and a reduction of the corresponding number of palettes by 93 (17 percent), which would eliminate the need for three trucks. These first numbers suggest the enormous savings potential that could ensue for commerce and food producers in the logistics and waste disposal chains.
Soft packaging is by no means synonymous with cheap or lower-quality packaging. State-of-the-art soft packaging coextrusion equipment enables completely new film combinations and functionalities such as parchment-like surface structures and greatly reduced material strengths. A higher-quality appearance can be easily achieved using printed images and other enhancement steps.
“Of course, not every product is suited for vacuum packaging,” concludes Johannes Remmele. “Consumer demands for convenience, packages that are optimally placed on sales shelves and perfect product protection are always in the foreground. But anyone who really takes sustainability concepts, resource protection and waste prevention seriously should at least take a hard look at their own products. It’s probably very likely that they will find one product or another that the consumer would favor due to a more environmentally suitable packaging or one that promised less household trash.”