Corrugated industry makes strides in reducing environmental impact

A new life-cycle assessment from the Corrugated Packaging Alliance notes advancements made between 2006 and 2014 in GHG reduction, recovery rates, water usage, and more.

The Corrugated Packaging Alliance has released a new U.S. corrugated industry life-cycle assessment (LCA), which shows the corrugated industry’s environmental progress.

“The LCA results demonstrate the efforts our mills and converting facilities are making to reduce the industry’s supply chain impact on the environment,” says CPA Executive Director Dennis Colley. “Sustainable forest procurement, along with the high old corrugated containers [OCC] recovery rate provide for a well-balanced system of fiber and supports the sustainability of our industry’s products.”

The LCA examined the effects of a 1-kg industry-average corrugated product manufactured in 2014 on seven environmental impact indicators, including global warming potential (greenhouse gas emissions), eutrophication, acidification, smog, ozone depletion, respiratory effects, and fossil fuel depletion, and four inventory indicators, including water use, water consumption, renewable energy demand, and non-renewable energy demand.

The corrugated industry reduced its GHG emissions by 35% between 2006 and 2014. The reduction was driven by increased OCC recovery and use of energy generated from renewable, carbon-neutral biomass and decreased overall use of fossil fuels.

The recovery rate for OCC increased from 72% in 2006 to 89.5% in 2014. As more is recovered, less goes to landfill, thereby reducing methane emissions.

Other notable improvements between 2006 and 2014 include a 29% reduction in the effects of nutrient releases on receiving waters and soils (eutrophication); a 23% reduction in photo-chemical ozone creation; a 21% reduction in water use; and a 21% reduction in respiratory related effects.

The peer-reviewed study, commissioned by the CPA and conducted by the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement is the third study in a series of industry LCA’s. It was conducted in accordance with ISO 14040/44 standards and guidelines for life-cycle assessment studies.

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