Life Cycle Assessments

Comparative Life Cycle Assessment

Corrugated Life Cycle Assessments

The corrugated packaging industry has achieved substantial reductions in the environmental impacts of a corrugated cardboard box according to a new life cycle assessment (LCA). The study shows a 50 percent per unit reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2006 and 2020, tackling the most urgent and predominant causes of our changing climate.

The LCA, conducted for the Corrugated Packaging Alliance (CPA) by Anthesis and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement with third-party review by the Athena Institute, analyzed the cradle-to-grave circular life cycle of an average corrugated cardboard box made in the U.S. in 2020. It estimated impacts to land, air and water based upon the new materials, manufacturing of those materials into products, the distribution/transportation and use of the products, and the end-of-life.

Meaningful reductions were also achieved on ozone depletion (13%), energy usage (13%), water usage (18%), acid rain (41%) smog, (44%) and respiratory effects (54%) and eutrophication which leads to algae blooms and dead zones in bodies of water (30%).

The industry’s progress was attained through energy improvements, strong recycling infrastructure, sustainably managed forests, and an ongoing commitment to improvement. The industry continues to shift to cleaner-burning fuel, has increased its participation in a greener U.S. electric grid and made investments in energy efficiency.

The introduction of new, fresh fibers from sustainably managed forests drives the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The use of old corrugated containers (OCC) has also contributed to the avoidance of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from landfills. This combination of both new, fresh fibers and recycled fibers maximizes fiber reuse and enables circularity. Much of this progress is driven by the sustainability commitments of companies in the industry.

The corrugated packaging industry continues to prioritize sustainability through science-based goals and innovation. As society faces increasingly urgent environmental challenges, the corrugated industry remains committed to making positive change for our world.

View all 2020 LCA Resources by clicking below

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Comparative Life Cycle Assessment

The corrugated industry has completed a comparative life cycle assessment (LCA) study to bring a scientifically robust and transparent environmental assessment of corrugated containers and reusable plastic containers (RPC) to the produce industry and the public.

The LCA shows neither corrugated containers nor reusable plastic containers (RPC), have an advantage in all environmental impact categories.

The LCA compares the environmental impact from extraction of raw materials to end-of-life for the two commonly-used produce container systems across eight of the highest volume produce items.  The assessment shows that the two container systems have different environmental impacts which create value-based trade-offs. To minimize the footprint of delivering products to market, grower/shippers and packers should evaluate individual commodities, transport distances and other variables rather than rely on a one system fits all perspective.

PCRs, LCAs and EPDs

Product Category Rules (PCRs), Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs), and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) tell us about the environmental costs of extracting resources and the actual cost of creating a product for use in our everyday lives. These tools give us the knowledge for steps we can take to make greener, more sustainable products.

The first PCR was developed in 2017 and established the rules for performing Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) in the industry and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). Click here for the industry's 2023 PCR.

PCRs allow for the review and comparison of different environmental product attributes among products in a defined category. PCRs help ensure that claims (boundaries, data, assumptions, uncertainty, etc.) are comparable when describing LCA results and provide instructions for how LCAs should be conducted. PCRs are also necessary to determine the rules and requirements for EPDs.

EPDs are a declaration of a product's attributes concerning different environmental parameters during the product life cycle. An EPD requires gathering quantified data for a product with categories of parameters: raw material, energy use, and waste, to name a few.

Also known as sustainable manufacturing, many companies use this strategy to increase growth and competitiveness. With an EPD, manufacturers report comparable, objective, and third-party verified data that show the good and the bad about the environmental performance of their products and services. When developing an EPD, the environmental performance is described by carrying out an LCA of the product.