The carbon footprint of paper sacks is getting better and better

Peter Hammer , 15 February 2024

Between 2007 and 2021, the carbon intensity of a paper sack was reduced by 28%. This is the result of the study by the European Paper Sack Research Group (ESG). At the same time, the fossil carbon footprint was reduced by 26%.

The figures are clear: there is a steady downward trend in the fossil carbon footprint in the production phase of average kraft paper and paper sacks in Europe. From 2018 to 2021, the carbon footprint per tonne of kraft sack paper fell by 5% from 442 to 421 kg CO2e. There was also a slight improvement of 1% in the carbon footprint for paper sacks. The value here fell to 86 g CO2e per paper sack. These are the results of a new study by the European Paper Sack Research Group (ESG). At 61%, emissions from the production of kraft sack paper are the most significant factor in the CO2 footprint of the average European paper sack.

A continuous development

A comparison of the latest data with the results of the first Life Cycle Assessment study carried out by the European Paper Sack Research Group (ESG) in 2007 shows a significant reduction in the fossil carbon footprint per tonne of kraft sack paper of around 26%: from 570 to 421 kg CO2e. The reduction is primarily due to fewer emissions from net purchased electricity and from the combustion of the fuels used in the paper mills. Per paper bag, there is also a downward trend with a decrease from 118 g CO2e per paper bag in 2007 to 86 g CO2e in 2021. This represents an improvement of 28%. The reduction is due to a reduction in the weight of the paper sacks and the consumption of fossil fuels.

Prioritising the use of renewable energies

The production of kraft sack paper is less dependent on fossil fuels and the external consumption of fossil fuels was reduced by 9% between 2015 and 2021. In 2021, renewable energies account for a high proportion of the fuels used. Overall, biofuels account for 92% of all fuels used in the companies, 78% of which are produced as part of the manufacturing processes in the paper mills. In addition, the paper mills generate 59% of the electricity they need themselves. In 2021, 29% of the electricity consumed by the paper mills and purchased from the grid was categorised as "green" energy, according to the report.

Low carbon solution

When young trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forestry products such as paper sacks store carbon throughout their life cycle. If the biogenic decomposition from the "cradle-to-gate" production phase were included in the calculation alongside the emissions, the carbon footprint would actually be negative. "This proves once again that paper sacks are a low-carbon solution with a potentially even negative carbon footprint," explains Catherine Plitzko-Kerninon, General Delegate at Eurosac, the European manufacturers' association. An even more complete picture of the entire life cycle would be obtained if the system boundaries were extended and the end of life of the paper sacks were included in the considerations. However, this method is not entirely unproblematic due to the questionable accuracy of the data. "In a circular economy, recycling is of course the best way forward. Recycling paper and cardboard products has another advantage: it delays the release of stored CO2 back into the atmosphere," says Plitzko-Kerninon. "That's why our industry is committed to promoting and advancing the recycling of paper sacks after use."

Source: Neue Verpackung