Significant improvement of environmental footprint of paper sacks9 March 2021
the European kraft paper and paper sack industry has put further efforts into improving its carbon footprint. In only three years, between 2015 and 2018, the carbon intensity of a single paper sack was reduced by 8%. This is concluded by the latest carbon footprint analysis on European paper sacks conducted by the Swedish research institute RISE on behalf of the European Paper Sack Research Group (ESG), a collaboration between EUROSAC and CEPI Eurokraft.
Significant improvement of environmental footprint of paper sacks
The European kraft paper and paper sack industry has put further efforts into improving its carbon footprint. In only three years, between 2015 and 2018, the carbon intensity of a single paper sack was reduced by 8%. This is concluded by the latest carbon footprint analysis on European paper sacks conducted by the Swedish research institute RISE on behalf of the European Paper Sack Research Group (ESG), a collaboration between EUROSAC and CEPI Eurokraft. An infographic presents the most important results.
The recently published report by RISE on the fossil carbon footprint of average European paper sacks summarises an impressive achievement: in this three-year period, the industry improved its emissions during the subsequent stages of production from cradle to the factory gate by 8%, from 92 g CO2e to 85 g CO2e. Part of the explanation for this is lightweighting effects based on an improved paper quality and a reduction of the share of other materials such as plastic films in the paper sack. Per tonne of sack kraft paper the fossil carbon impact decreased by 0.5% from 458 kg CO2e in 2015 to 455 kg CO2e in 2018. The emissions arising during kraft paper production account for 66% of the total carbon footprint for each individual paper sack.
Target of EU action plan exceeded
When looking at the data for a longer period, there is a consistent downward trend in the cradle-to-gate fossil carbon impact of average European sack kraft paper and paper sacks. It even exceeds the targets set by the EU climate action plan of reducing the greenhouse gas emission by 20% between 1990 and 2020. In only 11 years (from 2007 to 2018), the fossil carbon impact per tonne of sack kraft paper has been lowered by 20% (from 570 kg CO2e to 455 kg CO2e). With 28% improvement (from 118 g CO2e to 85 g CO2e), the result for paper sacks is even more significant. The efforts of the European kraft paper and paper sack industry to continuously improve its environmental imprint will be just as high in the upcoming years. “With a reduction of the emissions by 40% to even 55%, the European Union has set an ambitious target for 2030,” says Catherine Plitzko-Kerninon, General Delegate, EUROSAC. “Paper sacks are a low carbon, circular and bio-based packaging solution – this is a good starting point for our industry to contribute to its achievement.”
Climate-friendly and efficient production
One key factor is a climate-friendly production: already today, the production of sack kraft paper is, to a high degree, energy self-sufficient: 77% of all energy needs (heat and electricity) is generated on-site. Adding to that, the production uses a high degree of renewable energy sources: 89% of the fuels are renewable and used to generate heat, steam and electricity. Most of them, that is 81%, are produced as side streams of the pulp and papermaking process.
Positive climate impact with extended system boundaries
When extending the analysis to include biogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removals in the calculation, paper sacks would already be climate-positive packaging solutions today. Biogenic emissions arise from the combustion or degradation of biofuels and bio-based products. The removals refer to the carbon sequestration that is associated with forest management, the production of biofuels and of bio-based non-fibre inputs. In 2018, the cradle-to-gate biogenic carbon footprint accounts for –120 g CO2e per paper sack. In combination with the cradle-to-gate fossil carbon footprint of 85 g CO2e per sack, the result would even be at –35 g CO2e per paper sack which has a positive impact on the climate. The key data of the study is summarised in an infographic. A fact sheet gives further background information on the analysis. All documents are available for download on the CEPI Eurokraft and EUROSAC websites.
Climate change is a topic of high public interest. Stakeholders are increasingly looking at standards, labels and other instruments that broaden the focus beyond emissions related to production activities to encompass the entire value chain. In this context, the fossil carbon footprint that is associated with the whole supply chain – including the manufacture, transport and distribution of a certain product or packaging – is an established tool that gives customers an indication about a product’s impact on the climate. CEPI Eurokraft and EUROSAC are pleased to present the carbon footprint for sack kraft paper and paper sacks in Europe for 2018. The report also contains an extended analysis method which also includes biogenic removals and emissions in the calculation. This even gives a more complete and realistic picture of the environmental friendliness of paper sacks.
About the research
The analysis has been carried out by the Swedish research institute RISE using two different methods. Both calculations are based on tools developed by the International Confederation of Paper and Board Converters in Europe (CITPA) and by the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI).
· As the first step, a cradle-to-gate calculation of the fossil carbon impact of sack kraft paper and paper sacks was conducted following the CEPI1 and CITPA2 guidelines established in 2007.
· The second step ensured that the study also extended the system boundaries from cradle-to-grave, thereby including the total carbon impact (i.e. fossil carbon emissions, biogenic carbon emissions and biogenic carbon removals).
The calculations make use of the gate-to-gate life cycle inventory data covering sack kraft paper production and paper sack converting compiled by CEPI Eurokraft and EUROSAC for 2018 from representative European mills and converting facilities. Fossil greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions factors for electricity are sourced from the International Energy Agency (IEA) Emissions Factors 2019. Carbon factors for emissions and removals have been sourced from the recognised life cycle inventory databases ecoInvent, GaBi professional, and the European reference Life Cycle Database (ELCD).
Paper sacks specification
Paper sacks are manufactured from sack kraft paper combined with other components to deliver an effective, lightweight, and functional package. The sack kraft paper is made from virgin fibres. The paper sack composition considered in this analysis is summarised in the table below:
Component Share of composition by weight
Paper 92.7% 117.2 g
Film (HDPE/LDPE) 4.0% 5.0 g
Glue (starch and PVA glues) 2.0% 2.6 g
Ink 1.1% 1.4 g
Other components 0.2% 0.2 g
Total 100% 126.4 g
CARBON FOOTPRINT RESULTS
There is a consistent downward trend in the cradle-to-gate fossil carbon impact of average European sack kraft paper and paper sacks.
For the production of sack kraft paper
· 2015 to 2018: The reduction in fossil carbon impact per tonne of sack kraft paper was approximately 0.5% – from 458 kg CO2e to 455 kg CO2e.
· 2007 to 2018: There is a significant reduction in fossil carbon impact per tonne of sack kraft paper of approximately 20% – from 570 kg CO2e to 455 kg CO2e.
For the production of paper sacks
· 2015 to 2018: The fossil carbon impact per paper sack is reduced by 8% – from 92 g CO2e to 85 g CO2e per sack in 2018. The emissions are as follows:
Description Fossil GHG emissions Percentage
Production of purchased kraft paper 56 g CO2e 66%
Production of purchased fuels and non-paper inputs 15 g CO2e 18%
Production of purchased electricity 7 g CO2e 8%
Transport to converting operation 5 g CO2e 6%
Direct emissions from production site 2 g CO2e 2%
85 g CO2e 100%
· 2007 to 2018: The fossil carbon impact per paper sack has been reduced by 28% – from 118 g CO2e to 85 g CO2e. The figure below shows the improvement since 2007:
Extending the system boundaries
Forests sequester and store carbon. When including the cradle-to-gate biogenic removals as well as emissions in the 2018 calculation, the carbon footprint even comes to a negative result – which has a positive impact on the climate:
· The cradle-to-gate biogenic removals (associated with forest management, production of biofuels and production of bio-based non-fibre inputs such as starch) are –447 g CO2e per paper sack.
· The cradle-to-gate biogenic emissions (associated with combustion of biofuels) are 327 g CO2e per paper sack.
· In total, this gives a net biogenic carbon result of –120 g CO2e per paper sack.
· Combining the cradle-to-gate fossil carbon footprint result (85 g CO2e per sack) with the cradle-to-gate biogenic carbon footprint result (–120 g CO2e per sack) totals –35 g CO2e per paper sack.
The production of sack kraft paper is very energy-efficient and uses a high degree of renewable energy sources:
· 77% of all energy needs (heat and electricity) is generated on-site.
· 89% of the fuels are renewable and used to generate heat, steam and electricity.
o 81% are produced as side streams of the pulp and papermaking process.
o The remaining 8% are purchased.
· Purchased fossil fuels make up only 11%.