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A New Way of Measuring Packaging’s Environmental Footprint

Image: Robert Kneschke/Adobe Stock AdobeStock 90303726 Sustainability Compass
Software as a service (SaaS) tool eQopack measures packaging’s footprint to enable smarter, more sustainable decision-making.

Brands’ sprint toward more sustainable packaging begs the question: How can that be measured and benchmarked for wise decision-making during packaging assessment and development?

Global sustainability consulting firm Quantis offers a solution with eQopack, a software as a service (SaaS) tool that embeds eco-design into the packaging development process. Using robust environmental data, eQopack allows designers and engineers to measure the footprint of packaging, enabling smarter, more sustainable results.

eQopack allows users to consider environmental factors, such as climate change and land and water use, across the packaging solution’s entire lifecycle — from raw materials to end of life. In addition, designers can use the tool to assess packaging options with indicators like reusability, recycled content, pack to product weight ratio and more, and generate an environmental performance score to help guide decision-making.

Catherine Zwahlen, Quantis digital solutions expert, responds to our questions.

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What’s the difference between eQopack and other Life-Cycle Assessment options such as COMPASS?

Zwahlen: What makes eQopack unique is that it speaks the language of packaging engineers, allows for comparison between different packaging solutions at a glance — with actionable metrics without the LCA complexity — and is user centric and intuitive. When we developed eQopack, we weren’t starting from scratch, but rather building on years of experience creating packaging eco-design tools for our clients and input gathered directly from users.

How does it work as a SaaS tool?

Zwahlen: Packaging engineers can describe multiple packaging scenarios in the packaging modeling module and compare the environmental performance of those packaging scenarios in the assessment module. For example, they can take PET and glass for a bottle to calculate and compare the impacts, as well as understand the differences and what the source of those differences are.

The tool is composed of two modules, one for entering the valuable information needed to assess the packaging impacts, and the other to visualize the impacts of the modeled packaging designs.

eQopack is accessible through a license and the solution can be customized to the client needs such as through branding, for example, or with regard to the packaging materials.

How would or could a brand customer use this?

Zwahlen: A brand customer would use the tool to enable packaging teams to evaluate the environmental impact of the packaging of the brand product. They can compare different packaging solutions using, for example, different types of material, different weight, changes in the recycled content of a material, etc.

The assessment covers the whole life cycle, from production to end-of-life.

eQopack calculates 16 Product Environmental Footprint indicators and 8 packaging indicators: product weight ratio, recycled content, recyclability, reusability, compostability, waste streams, renewable content, recycling rate. We customize the display of indicators for each of our clients and make sure to highlight the most important indicators for their sustainability strategy.

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What’s involved in the process and what’s the output?

Zwahlen: The inputs include specifications for all the components of primary, secondary and tertiary packaging, as well as distribution information. The step is very fast and only takes a few minutes.

The output is the display of indicators. The display is customized to highlight the indicators selected by our clients.

What's an example of an assessment?

Zwahlen: Here’s an example: a company would like to assess the difference between packaging involving different types of plastics or varying the amount of recycled content in a material. The user can specify all the different scenarios and use eQopack to compare them.

To identify improvement areas, like reducing greenhouse gasses (GHG) for instance, the user can look at the results at the packaging level or take a full life-cycle view that includes production, distribution, upstream and downstream logistics, and end of life.

Please comment on this statement: “The tool is actually geared more towards food companies.”

Zwahlen: Packaging is a universal concern — and eQopack is a solution for all companies — but our initial clients for the tool are mainly in food and beverage industries because there’s a huge demand for this type of product in those markets. The development process for eQopack involved inputs from food companies primarily, though we also have clients in the pharmaceutical sector as well.

Can you point to customer companies?

Zwahlen: We have several customers in the food and beverage industry, including Bel — a multinational player in fruit and dairy single-portion snacking.

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There’s a general bias against plastics…how does the tool view polymers?

Zwahlen: There are different metrics to take into account when choosing the most sustainable packaging: LCA metrics (carbon, water, biodiversity, etc.), recyclability, as well as plastic leakage (a new indicator developed according to the Plastic Leak Project guidelines). It’s essential to have a global overview for all the alternatives to ensure we don’t shift the impact from one area to another. Leakage in the environment aka plastic pollution depends on the type of product and polymer, as well as the country considered. This is also the case for recyclability. Indeed, all these aspects — a holistic approach — must be included when working on packaging design to avoid making decisions based on assumptions.

eQopack will grow and evolve alongside the science. We’re currently working on a plastic leakage indicator to be included in the future.

What’s important for readers to know?

Zwahlen: Companies are ramping up their sustainability commitments, implementing them is another challenge. To truly embed sustainability in a company, all teams need to be empowered to make better choices. Digital tools like eQopack equip teams with the knowledge and insights they need to reduce the environmental impacts in their daily capacities. It allows companies to mainstream and scale sustainable decision-making, without having to be an environmental or LCA expert.

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