The EU Forest Strategy and Low Carbon Packaging Solutions

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Beverage cartons are a low carbon, recyclable packaging solution that supports the EU Green Deal ambitions and actively contributes to reducing a negative environmental impact by sourcing sustainable raw materials for its production.

In this context, the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) welcomes the Commission’s aim to improve the quantity and quality of EU Forests with the support of sustainable forest management in the new EU Forest Strategy for 2030.

However, it falls short in providing a strong case demonstrating that products made from renewable material have a vital role to play in supporting the European Green Deal. A commitment must be made, in which packaging is acknowledged as contributing to the EU Green Deal ambitions, while not compromising on health and safety for consumers.

ACE sees that the following two topics merit more attention and discussion

(1) A mutual relationship between short-lived and long-lived products

The Forest Strategy fails to comprehend the mutually beneficial relationship between long-lived products like furniture and building materials with short-lived products such as paper and packaging in downstream forest-based industries. Both product types are complimentary for optimal use of forest materials. For example, the board used to produce beverage cartons either comes from sawmill residue or small parts of the trees, which cannot be used for long-lived products. Instead of looking at the entirety of active forest management, the Strategy views both elements separately and almost as incompatible. As it stands, the Strategy continues to consider forests almost exclusively as carbon sinks and does not recognize the entire value chain and the climate benefit that forest paper-based products contribute to.

With consumption levels rapidly rising and the subsequent climate crisis becoming increasingly pressing, fibre-based packaging is growing as an attractive sustainable packaging alternative to fossil fuel-based packaging where the carbon footprint is much higher.  Beverage cartons are an example of a packaging solution that can be recycled, offering valuable secondary raw materials for the circular economy, thereby prolonging the lifecycle.

(2) The enhancement of existing certification schemes

The Strategy’s proposal for a voluntary ‘closer-to-nature’ forest management certification scheme overlooks the powerful role that existing schemes can play. Sustainable forest management and certification play a vital role to avoid illegal logging, mitigating climate change and achieving EU biodiversity ambitions. By enhancing existing internationally recognised forest management certification schemes and supporting a harmonised system across all Member States, the European Commission can bring real added value by supporting adhesion to the existing schemes between small forest owners and producers.

Beverage Cartons: A Recyclable Low Carbon Solution

Paper-based products, such as beverage cartons, are a low carbon circular economy solution. They offer a plethora of advantages that are outlined below:

Beverage cartons have the lowest carbon footprint in their core use categories of milk and juice as compared to other packaging options and offer higher-quality protection, enabling food to have a longer shelf life and minimising food loss and waste.

A Commitment to the Future and Ourselves

The beverage carton industry is committed to placing sustainable forest management at the heart of its 2030 vision. We are committed to increasing carbon sequestration, enhancing biodiversity and maximising forest growth to enable the transformation towards decarbonisation while respecting the different roles of the forest ecosystem.

“Our [ACE] vision is to deliver the most sustainable packaging for resilient food supply systems which is renewable, climate positive and circular by 2030 and beyond.”

In addition, by 2030 the industry aims to have 90% of all beverage cartons being collected for recycling, with at least a 70% being recycled.

Our vision for the future comes from our established strong foundation. As part of the industry’s current chain of custody, all  ACE members receive verification from credible, independent, third-party global certification schemes, such as FSC or PEFC, to ensure the wood fibre is only sourced from sustainably managed forests. These schemes promote the role of sustainable forest management, demonstrate sustainable sourcing, avoid illegal logging and mitigate climate change. We believe they can already contribute significantly to the objectives of the EU Forest Strategy.

Looking Ahead

An enabling regulatory environment must be in place for the beverage carton industry to continue to contribute to a sustainable circular economy and to achieve the objectives set out in our 2030 Roadmap. We believe that climate mitigation and circularity objectives should be mutually supportive. In this context, legislation should recognise the benefits of low carbon packaging, that are renewable and responsibly sourced, and the positive contribution they can make to broader climate and circular economy targets.

An EU Forest Strategy that recognises the equally important role of all fibre-based products and supports the enhancement of existing credible certification schemes is a good starting point. Ultimately, policy must acknowledge and incentivise the beverage carton industry’s commitment to providing the most sustainable packaging to EU citizens.

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