Packaging: not just a pretty case
Food packaging has to perform several different functions and its development is a complex process that keeps many of our employees on their toes. Unfortunately, it’s rarely possible to satisfy all demands in equal measure. Because packaging has only a limited impact on a food’s environmental effects, product protection takes priority at Emmi.
Pots, cups, jars, trays, bottles – they all protect food. On top of this, though, they must also be easy to fill, stackable, sturdy, leak-proof, resealable, handy, inexpensive and environmentally friendly, not to mention unmistakeable and attractive to the eye.
Product protection takes precedence
Satisfying all of these demands in equal measure is an impossible task for any form of packaging. Often, high product protection and low material consumption – and therefore minimal environmental impact – run counter to one other.
At Emmi, we have chosen to deal with this conflict by prioritising the protection of the product. The reason: studies show that packaging is responsible for just 1 % of environmental pollution caused by food. The production of milk for yogurt, for example, has a far greater impact on the environment than packaging. From an ecological perspective, then, it makes sense to prioritise product protection.
If two packaging variants guarantee the same level of product protection, we opt for the more material-efficient alternative. Further criteria include recyclability and life cycle assessment. Among plastics, for example, polystyrene (PS) clearly scores more poorly than PVC, PET, PE and PP.
Combining positive properties
A detailed analysis by the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) rates the sustainability of various forms of packaging for the most common foods. The findings may come as a surprise to the average layperson. For yogurts, for example, the K3® pot comes out on top along with brown reusable jars. The thin PS pots with a cardboard sleeve and an aluminium or polypropylene lid used in Switzerland for organic and many brand yogurts combine the positive properties of different materials. Despite being made from plastic, they are preferable to a transparent yogurt jar or a PET pot.
Near perfection: beverage cartons
When it comes to milk packaging, resealable beverage cartons made from composite material with a plastic cap place highly in the sustainability rankings. Only brown reusable bottles – if recycled – would be more preferable. From a Swiss perspective, beverage cartons have only one drawback: they are not currently part of a nationwide waste collection scheme. The problem lies in a lack of funding. A user-pays financing system, which has proven successful for other types of packaging in Switzerland, could offer a solution.
As we see it, the recycling of beverage cartons would be sustainable, particularly in Switzerland, where there are already recycling opportunities and the material wouldn’t have to be transported across national borders for processing. We at Emmi would therefore welcome the collection and recycling of this widely used, sensible packaging. And according to a study by market research company GfK, 9 out of 10 people would participate in beverage carton recycling.
Publication FiBL (in German): Best practice packaging variants for Bio Suisse products, April 2012
Our goal for 2020 is to reduce our waste by 20 %. A main topic will be the promotion of recycling systems
Head of packaging development for dairy products, Emmen, Switzerland