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25 May 2022

Carbon Footprint: how to assess the environmental impact of a bag

Calculating the Carbon Footprint for more sustainable packaging

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is key to preserving the health of our planet and building a more sustainable future. One of the most important indicators for measuring the impact of organisations, products and services on the environment and climate is the Carbon Footprint.

The calculation of the Carbon FOotprint in the packaging sector makes it possible to quantify and manage the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the manufacture and use of packaging, and is the first step towards reduced emissions and greater environmental sustainability.

But what specifically is the Carbon Footprint? And how is it calculated? Let's find out together.

What is the Carbon Footprint and why it is important to know about it

To assess and quantify environmental impact, it is important to first understand what the Carbon Footprint is. The carbon footprint is a measure of the environmental impact of a product, activity or service on the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, i.e. the gases that, if released into the atmosphere in massive quantities, can have negative effects on the climate and the environment, causing global warming. This is the case, for example, with carbon dioxide (CO2), but also with other gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

The Carbon Footprint is generally expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalent, i.e. taking as a reference for all greenhouse gases the effect caused by the main one, carbon dioxide (or carbon dioxide), calculated over the entire life cycle of the system under analysis.

The carbon footprint takes into account direct and indirect CO2 emissions:

  • direct emissions are CO2 emissions that come directly from a company's activities, such as the use of electricity or gas for heating;
  • indicrect emissions are CO2 emissions that do not come directly from the activities of organisations or companies, but are closely related, such as CO2 emissions generated by production of good or services that the company uses.

The Product Carbon Footprint (CFP), in particular, considers the emissions produced during the entire life cycle of a product: from the sourcing and processing stages, through to the realisation of the finished product and its use and disposal.

How to calculate the Carbon Footprint

As mentioned above, calculating the Carbon Footprint of a product means determining the value of greenhouse gas emissions by analysing all the operations performed during its life cycle. The calculations of the carbon footprint must take into account all stages of the supply chain, starting with the extraction of raw materials and ending with the disposal of waste according to the Life Cycle Assessment approach.

In the packaging sector, to calculate the environmental impact of a bag or other packaging, it is necessary to analyse and quantify the gases produced during the processes of:

  • production, which includes the selection of raw materials and all the processes of designing, processing, creating and transforming the packaging into a finished product;
  • transport, considering both the transport of raw materials to the production site or to any warehouses, and the delivery of the final product to the customer;
  • use, depending, for example, on whether the packaging is reusable or disposable;
  • disposal and/or recycling, which includes the management of waste at the end of the products' life cycle and possible recycling in appropriate facilities to create new products.

To correctly calculate the Carbon Footprint, the total greenhouse gas emissions converted to CO2 equivalent (CO2 eq) must be evaluated. The parameters for the conversion are set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

How to reduce the Carbon Footprint

Several studies have shown that plastics have a lower carbon footprint than other materials such as glass, aluminium or paper. The use of recycled plastics, in particular, can have a positive impact on carbon emissions: recycling sistems that produce recycled plastics generate fewer emissions than traditional raw material extraction processes.

Incorporating more recycled plastic into products and packaging (such as the use of regenerated PE in the case of plastic bags) can therefore be ab effective way to reduce the carbon footprint.

Although recycled plastic has a lower carbon footprint than traditional alternatives, in a fully-functioning circular economy the way in which the material is disposed of and recycled is  crucial to allow emissions to be reduced: in order to increase the recycled content within bags and packaging, a suffiecient supply of recycled plastic material must be available. It is therefore important that consumers also contribute to proper plastic recycling through conscious separate collection, separating products correctly and trying to limit waste.

In order to reduce the Carbon Footprint, in the case of plastic bags used for waste collection, it is also useful to pay attention ti the optimal filling level of the level of bags, so as to decrease the number of bags used and thus also the number collections by the companies providing the service.

Plastisac for more sustainable packaging: Systematic Approach certification

For more than 60 years Plastisac has been working in the plastics industry developing alternative technological solutions, showing particular attention to environmental sustainability. The company offers products made with sustainable and recyclable plastic and constantly invests in research and develpment to promote the marketing of the marketing of increasingly eco-sustainable green packaging and plastic bags, made with recycled and recyclable polyethylene, in full compliance with precise sustainability standards.

Plastisac was the first company in the packaging sector to commit to reducing the Carbon Footprint of plastic bags for waste collection and has recently renewed its Carbon Footprint Systematic Approach certification (UNI EN ISO 14067).

Carbon Footprint Analysis: Comparison of bags from virgin plastic and recycled bags

The Carbon Footprint Systematic Aprroach certification made it possible to analyse the lifecycle carbon footprint of each individual product manufactured. The analysis focused, in particular on the impact, of non-food bags, comparing the carbon footprint of bags made from virgin raw material with that of recycled bags. The data that emerged showed a significantly lower impact of the recycled version. Testing a 20x40+3 cm bag used by one of our major customers showed that:

  • the virgin bag (20x40 cm, thickness 25 my) has an impact of  20.27 g/bag CO2 equivalent;
  • the recycled bag (20x40 cm, thickness 30 my) has an impact of 15.83 g/bag of CO2 equivalent.

Even if the thickness of the recycled bags is slightly increased (in order to ensure the same technical properties as bags made from vergin plastic), the impact on the environment has decreased by 21.9% considering the entire product life cycle. On production runs involving very large quantities, the CO2 savings are therefore considerable.

In the case of customer in question, in particular, the annual production of 20x40+3 cm bags is around 5,000,000 pieces per year: around 22 tonnes of CO2 equivalent were saved in the production of this article alone.

The use of recycled raw material and the commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of the bags produced are in addition to all the measures and investments made by Plastisac to make its company structures and production processes increasingly sustainable. These include the installation of a photovoltaic system for self-production of energy and the purchase of green certificates, which in recent years have led to a 15% reduction in the impact of production processes.

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