What is a Carbon Footprint?
A carbon footprint of a product or service is a measurement of all greenhouse gas emissions (including carbon dioxide) during the life cycle of a product.
It measures the impact of a product or service on the climate. The term relates to carbon dioxide which is the most common greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming. The unit of measure is a kg of CO₂. When another greenhouse gas is measured, such as methane, it is converted into CO₂ - eq (equivalent).
Calculating carbon footprints can help us to understand how the products we use affect the environment and climate change. The aim of regularly measuring carbon footprints is to show that, over time, reductions have been made in the amount of emissions associated with the life cycle. The cartonboard and carton industries have improved their carbon footprint by 7% from 2005 to 2008.
What is a Carton’s Carbon Footprint?
As every carton is made to a certain specification to be fit for a certain purpose, a single carton will have its own carbon footprint figure which needs to be calculated separately.
In order to give a general indication of how many kilogrammes of carton dioxide are produced for each tonne of cartonboard which is converted, the industry has calculated the average carbon footprint of all carton production in Europe.
The European industry’s carbon footprint (cradle –to –gate) is 964 kg of carton dioxide (and equivalents) produced for each tonne of cartonboard which is converted.
However a fossil carbon footprint should not be the only criteria used in choosing a packaging format and current footprint calculations do not give due consideration to all environmental factors.
The Carton Industry’s Position on Carbon Footprint
• Cartons’ raw material - cartonboard - is made from wood fibres from sustainable forests. Sustainable forest management is part of the important relationship between forests and climate.
• Growing trees capture and store carbon and when the wood fibre is processed into cartons, the carbon continues to be stored in the cartons.
• Research shows that demand for cartons improves carbon sequestration
• The industry believes that this makes cartons the best choice of packaging for the environment
• Cartons should be credited for the carbon sequestration of their raw material when cartons’ carbon footprints are calculated: biogenic carbon in cartons should be credited against carbon dioxide emitted during the cartons’ life cycle.
What is biogenic carbon?
The capture and storage of carbon in all forest – based products including cartonboard, can be measured in biogenic carbon.
Cartonboard’s raw material is wood fibre - the renewable resource of the sustainably managed forest. Growing trees capture and store carbon and when the wood fibre is processed into cartons, the carbon continues to be stored in the cartons. When cartons are recycled, the carbon is locked up even longer.
How do you include biogenic carbon in the carbon footprint calculation for cartons?
The Swedish scientific institute, IVL, published a study which suggests a link between carton consumption and carbon uptake and storage in the forest. This suggests:
• Sustainable forest management is essential for high carbon sequestration in the forest, since actively managed forests remove carbon from the atmosphere at a much higher rate than non-managed forests
• There is a beneficial link between the market’s demand for cartons and carbon sequestration, which is illustrated in the chart
• Net carbon sequestration in the forest (removals from the atmosphere) for the average of all carton production in Europe, amounts to -730 kg of biogenic carbon per tonne of cartons
Deducting the biogenic carbon removed from the atmosphere from the fossil carbon emitted, results in a very low carbon footprint: cradle – to - gate: 234 kg CO₂ / tonne