COP 28 urged governments to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. The conference closed with an agreement that signals the “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era by laying the groundwork for a rapid, just and equitable transition, backed by deep emission reductions and increased financing (UNFCCC, 2023a).

To end fossil fuels, one of the COP28 targets is to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency improvements by 2030 (UNFCCC, 2023b).

One of the sectors that could play a key role in reducing energy consumption and contribute to achieving the COP28 targets is the packaging sector. In Europe, packaging is responsible for 10.7% of embodied energy in food consumption (Monforti et al., 2015). To this end, reducing energy consumption in this sector and transitioning to renewable energy is crucial. In this context, it is important to choose packaging with lower energy consumption and lower environmental impact.

According to the results of a study conducted by the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change (BALA and FULLANA, 2017) (Figure 1), which analyzes the full life cycle of two distribution systems, it was concluded that reusable plastic crates have a lower impact on the environment compared to cardboard boxes (see Figure 1).

This is because the use of Reusable Plastic Crates (RPCs) requires less energy, both renewable and non-renewable, throughout its life cycle. This includes both obtaining the raw materials needed for their manufacture, obtaining the electrical energy from primary energy sources needed, as well as extracting and burning fuels for transporting the boxes and their waste. Specifically, RPCs consume 43% less total energy than cardboard boxes if we take into account net consumption (consumption-savings).

It should be noted that the energy used in the manufacture and distribution of boxes, which is recovered at the end-of-life stage, accounts for 28% in the case of RPCs and 74% in the case of cardboard boxes. In addition, the energy recovered through incineration contributes to savings in the electricity production mix in Spain.

Figure 1. Comparison of renewable and non-renewable energy consumptions and savings by distributed case (Bala et al., 2017).

In addition to lower energy consumption in RPCs compared to cartons, ARECO’s partners are implementing measures to further reduce energy consumption in their processes. In recent years, gas consumption has been reduced by more than 50%, with the ongoing goal of reducing it further through new degassing technologies.

As for electricity consumption, the adoption of new technologies has reduced electricity consumption by 90% and improved process quality. In addition, LED lighting and motion sensors have been installed in all tanks to optimize electricity consumption.

All warehouses have electricity contracts with supply from 100% renewable sources, and investments are being made in the installation of photovoltaic panels as a source of renewable energy in several plants.

Therefore, choosing RPCs instead of cardboard boxes is a better carbon footprint option that can help achieve the COP 28 and COP 21 targets of tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency improvements by 2030.

By Sahar Azarkamand, researcher of the ARECO Fellowship of the UNESCO Chair of Life Cycle of ESCI-UPF.


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Monforti, F et al., 2015, Energy use in the EU food sector: State of play and opportunities for improvement. JRC Science and Policy Report. DOI: 10.2790/158316

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