Life Cycle Analysis: Measuring, Evaluating and Reducing Our Environmental Impact

January 2024

As we kick off 2024, the new year is the perfect time to evaluate the progress we’ve made in sustainability and new opportunities to further reduce our environmental impact. Conducting a proper evaluation of where the packaging industry stands requires capable tools that paint an accurate picture of our progress.

With a firm commitment to following evidence-based practices in our efforts to create a better future, Plastipak relies on scientific data to guide our decision-making process and keep our customers informed. We rigorously test the environmental impact of our processes to ensure that they meet our high standards.

In this blog, we’ll explore life cycle analyses (LCAs), one of the tools we rely on to ensure we’re heading toward a better future for us all.

Understanding LCAs

A life cycle analysis calculates the environmental impact of a product from cradle to grave — from the moment raw materials are extracted from the ground for the production of resins to those materials’ conversion into packaging and beyond. An LCA also takes into account the ultimate outcome of a product whether it ends up incinerated, taking up space in a landfill or recycled and given new life in another product. 

A life cycle analysis considers more than just the environmental footprint of a product, however. During the product’s life cycle, we also take into account the impact generated by moving the product from one facility to another, such as the CO2 emissions caused by transporting the product from the manufacturer to the packing plant. In addition, we evaluate other environmental impacts including water and land use, eutrophication — the oversaturation of bodies of water with nutrients, which leads to excessive plant growth and decreased oxygen — and air pollution.

Our Approach to LCAs

While several methodologies exist for conducting LCAs, it’s important to ensure that organizations use the same standard across their tests to ensure consistent, accurate results. At Plastipak, our process for conducting LCAs is based on the Green House Gas (GHG) protocol, the industry standard for measuring emissions. Our approach complies with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)’s LCA guidelines (ISO 14040-44) and the European Union’s Product Environment Footprint (EU PEF) methods. By meeting these standards, our customers can rely on Plastipak to provide them with reliable data on the carbon footprint generated by the production of their packaging. Our customers capture this information in their scope 3 emissions, a total of the emissions produced upstream and downstream in the value chain.

The Value of LCAs

Although our customers could instead choose to rely on emissions factors — average emissions values derived from databases — this approach does not account for various scenarios, such as the use of renewable energy to power the production process. By conducting rigorous LCAs backed up by science, we provide scope 3 emissions data that fully reflect the impact of the production process to our partners. This data allows our customers to measure the impact of sustainable initiatives by the reduction of carbon usage.

We also rely heavily on life cycle analyses internally to analyze and verify the impact of various initiatives on our packaging products. In the past, LCAs have helped us measure the value of a number of strategies that allow our customers to reduce their carbon footprints:

  • Lightweighting: By reducing the amount of resin used in packaging while still achieving the same functionality and performance, our customers can cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Recycled content: We’re able to use post-consumer resin (PCR), which has a lower carbon footprint than virgin resin, to create packaging that has a lower carbon footprint, and in turn, decreases our partners’ scope 3 emissions.
  • Renewable energy: Where feasible, we’ve embraced natural resources to power our plants with clean energy that creates zero emissions, compared to the high carbon costs of fossil fuels. This has significantly lowered the impact of producing our packaging. 
  • PPK Natura: We created the world’s first PET resin produced from waste carbon in partnership with LanzaTech in 2023. This material has a proven lower carbon footprint than virgin resin. We anticipate that ongoing research will lead to the commercial development of other lower carbon alternatives, such as bio-based plastics.
  • Reducing transport/secondary packaging emissions: By embracing more fuel-efficient transportation options, organizations have the potential to reduce the environmental impact of their supply chain. Although the overall impact may be significantly smaller, this tactic is still an important part of reducing emissions.

By conducting life cycle analyses, we were able to quantify the impact each of the above initiatives has on a product’s carbon footprint. With each tactic requiring some degree of financial investment, the carbon savings can then be evaluated against financial considerations, guiding our clients as they construct roadmaps to reduce their organization emissions based on science-based evidence.

Another key use of LCAs is to compare the carbon costs of different packaging material types. By knowing how different materials will contribute to their environmental footprint, companies can make the best decision about their packaging.

For example, we produce virgin resin alongside PCR. By conducting a life cycle analysis, we have determined the impact of each of the resin products we produce. Conducting LCAs is crucial because of the prevalence of misconceptions about the environmental value of different materials such as many people mistakenly believing that plastic packaging creates higher emission values during production. However, when comparing PET and HDPE packaging to their equivalents in other substrates — glass, aluminum, etc. — the science shows that plastic packaging contributes the least carbon across its life cycle.

A More Sustainable Future

Life cycle analyses are a reliable, science-based tool that allows us to evaluate the impact our packaging has on the environment. We use the data LCAs provide to calculate organizations’ scope 3 emissions, evaluate the effectiveness of carbon reduction measures and embrace environmentally friendly practices with proven track records of success.

If you’re looking for a partner who can help reduce your carbon emissions and provide the data you need to chart a path toward a more sustainable future, we can help.

About Plastipak Packaging, Inc.

Plastipak Packaging, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Plastipak Holdings, Inc., is a world leader in the design and manufacture of high-quality, rigid plastic containers for the food, beverage, and consumer products industries. Plastipak is also a leading recycler of rigid plastic packaging, producing food-grade post-consumer recycled resin for inclusion in new packaging. Plastipak operates more than 40 sites in the United States, South America and Europe, with a total of over 6,500 employees. Its customers include some of the world’s most respected and recognized consumer brands. Plastipak is also a leading innovator in the packaging industry, holding more than 420 United States patents for its state-of-the-art package designs and manufacturing processes. In addition, Plastipak licenses various packaging technologies around the world. Plastipak was founded in 1967 and is headquartered in Plymouth, Michigan. Additional information about Plastipak can be found at www.plastipak.com.

Statements in this press release concerning Plastipak’s intentions, expectations or predictions about future results or events are “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Such statements reflect management’s current expectations or beliefs, and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results or events to vary from stated expectations, which variations could be material and adverse. Forward-looking statements speak only as of the time made, and the Company assumes no obligation to publicly update any such statements.