Challenges in developing a sustainability assessment framework for a new bio-based packaging material - Experiences and learnings from the Flexpakrenew project

Hanna Pihkola, Catharina Hohenthal, Mika Kuisma, Sini Veuro

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsScientific


    The paper presents the main results and findings from a sustainability assessment conducted as a part of an EU-funded project Flexpakrenew. The goal of the Flexpakrenew project was to develop a flexible packaging paper from renewable resources to reduce packaging industry's reliance on barrier films that are derived from petroleum. The goal of the sustainability assessment was to lead the development towards environmentally friendly raw materials and to communicate the sustainability of the packaging material developed. Based on the experiences from the project, challenges related to building a sustainability assessment framework for an emerging technological solution will be discussed. The technical challenge in the project was to develop a flexible paper, based on multilayered structure that achieves barrier properties competitive with those of plastic films. There are multiple uses for which thin and flexible packages with barrier capacity are needed. The study focussed on packages for dry foodstuff, such as dehydrated soup or flour. The goal was to substitute the petroleum based layers with bio based materials and to increase the biodegradability of the new packaging material. To be able to evaluate the sustainability of the new packaging material, a sustainability assessment framework was defined. In the assessment framework, the specific sustainability goals of the Flexpakrenew project were complemented with more general sustainability demands related to fibre based packaging. The whole life cycle of the packaging material was considered. Potential environmental aspects and impacts were evaluated applying life cycle assessment (LCA). Furthermore, screening of the potential economic and social impacts and evaluation of the competitiveness of the new packaging material was conducted. The results were summarized applying SWOT analysis. Three cases were included in the assessment: a reference case and two Flexpak cases (Case 1 and Case 2). The results of Cases 1 and 2 indicated positive trends in terms of environmental sustainability. The percentage of bio based materials was increased from zero to circa 50-60% in both Flexpak cases. However, there seemed to be uncertainty and thus weaknesses in terms of economic and technical dimensions of the solutions. At the moment, the solutions are not available in industrial production scale. The main challenges in the sustainability assessment were related to defining a suitable reference case for assessing the performance of the new packaging material and in gathering data for the assessment. Other challenges were related to assessing the potential impacts of a product that is only available in laboratory scale. An important aspect was also the timing of the sustainability assessment. The results of the sustainability assessment should be available at an early stage of the project to be able to communicate the results and to guide the R & D work towards sustainable solutions. However, the ability to conduct the sustainability assessment is dependent of the progress within the project since the assessment requires data from the experimental work conducted.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationBook of Abstracts
    Publication statusPublished - 2012
    EventSETAC Europe 18th LCA Case Study Symposium, 4th NorLCA Symposium: Sustainability assessment in the 21st century. Tools, trends and application - Copenhagen, Denmark
    Duration: 26 Nov 201228 Nov 2012


    ConferenceSETAC Europe 18th LCA Case Study Symposium, 4th NorLCA Symposium


    • life cycle assessment
    • sustainability assessment
    • biomaterials
    • packaging technology


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