“The heating is on.” In this very graphic and disturbing way, those responsible for the United Nations Environment Program recently titled their ‘Report on the Emissions Gap’. The heating he was referring to was none other than that of the planet, of course: a ‘stove’ that raises its temperature thanks to the greenhouse gases (GHG) that we emit and that accumulate in the atmosphere. The danger comes when the ‘boiler’ reaches a specific temperature. And, in the case of ‘heating the Earth’, the threshold must not increase 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, since a higher increase would cause “a threat to human well-being and health of the planet”, warns the report. A point of no return.
The chances that global warming will exceed the limit – and, therefore, that this ‘cauldron’ will continue to suffocate our planet – are increasing, unless “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions of GHG emissions occur”, as UN scientists point out. Hence, these experts highlight the urgency of reducing the carbon footprint, accelerating actions that must affect “everything, everywhere and at the same time”. And although, normally, when considering how to reduce these emissions, it is usual to talk, above all, about renewable energy, the choice of raw materials used to manufacture products or packaging also has a great impact.
The agri-food industry is obliged to increase the speed with which change has to take place – above all, taking into account that “the decisions that are being made today are not enough to limit global warming”, according to the latest report from the Group Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)–, since it is responsible for more than a third of the anthropogenic emissions of gases produced by all economic activities.
A key industry, without a doubt, for the economy -it is the leading industrial sector in Spain-, and cardinal, in turn, to guarantee the future of the planet: in less than three decades, for example, 70% more will be needed of food, according to the FAO, to cope with the increase in population. However, it will be impossible to respond to this demand if the temperature increases, and with it the risk of mortality also increases with the consequent reduction in agricultural production. Hence, the IPCC experts are clear: “Action on food is as urgent as action on the climate.”
For the agri-food sector, the context is pressing, yes, and the food and beverage packaging industry cannot be left out. “You should see it as an opportunity for the industry to reinvent and build economic and social advantages, based on more renewable and sustainable energy, materials and resources,” says Ramiro Ortiz, general director of Tetra Pak Iberia. Only in this way, according to him, will it be possible to “progress solidly towards a circular economy with low carbon emissions”.
At Tetra Pak, the path has already been followed for a long time. Today, 72% of the materials with which its packaging is made come from renewable sources. Materials such as cardboard, with FSC® certification that certifies that it comes from responsible sources and other controlled sources. In other words, they are well-managed and continuously growing forests, where the trees grow again without depleting natural resources.
For the agri-food sector, the context is pressing, and the food and beverage packaging industry must see it as an opportunity for the industry to reinvent and build economic and social advantages, based on more renewable and sustainable energy, materials and resources.
Ramiro Ortiz, CEO of Tetra Pak Iberia
The priority is now to reduce the use of materials of fossil origin, such as plastic and aluminum, necessary for food safety. The alternative is already underway: plastic of vegetable origin, derived from sugar cane, is already being used, which manages to significantly reduce CO₂ emissions throughout the life cycle of the packaging. And research is underway to implement an alternative protection barrier to aluminum from paper fiber.
The process of reducing the carbon footprint involves not only packaging, it is also urgent to abandon the use of fossil fuels throughout the value chain and bet on renewable energies – which already occupy 80% of Tetra Pak operations and will reach 100% in 2030–, as well as reducing water consumption –which will drop by 50% in 2030, compared to 2019– and reducing food waste.
heading to recycling
Although it is still necessary to go a little further, and direct all the efforts that are necessary (involving both suppliers and consumers) to give a second life to the materials. An urgent responsibility, if one takes into account that, according to a report prepared by the Catchment Institute for Ecoembes, in Spain each citizen throws out an average of 18.8 kilos of waste each year, just from “plastic containers, cans and cartons for beverages ”. And although it must be taken into account that a carton beverage container can generate up to ten times less greenhouse gas emissions throughout its value chain than, for example, a glass bottle, it is also decisive to reduce the carbon footprint with efficient waste management. “At Tetra Pak we work with governments and the recycling industry to establish effective collection systems and to ensure that our packages are recycled on a large scale and help reduce methane emissions from landfills. In Spain in 2021, more than 110,000 tons of beverage cartons were collected to be recycled. At a global level, between 2019 and 2021, our emissions at the end of the useful life of the containers were reduced from 906 to 886 kilotonnes”, affirms Ramiro Ortiz.
The year 2050 marks the goal of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change of 2015 for the decarbonization of the economy. Or what is the same, continuing with the metaphor, so that “the heating of the planet” achieves a stable temperature. But the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has already indicated that this objective to achieve net zero emissions is directed, above all, at emerging economies. For developed countries, the commitment must be set ten years in advance.
Speaking of commitments: Tetra Pak’s commitments to reduce its carbon footprint already started years ago, in 2007, when the first FSC® certified packaging was launched in the world. Since then, the company has worked – and continues to do so – with the ambition of “developing the most sustainable food packaging in the world”, as Ramiro Ortiz points out. “A container made entirely of renewable or recycled materials that are fully recyclable, and carbon neutral.” The objective responds to the urgency of decarbonizing the world economy, where each and every one of the containers of the nearly 200,000 million that this pioneering company, world leader in food processing and packaging, sells worldwide each year.