In December 2006, Tetra Pak, Inc. quietly posted a report prepared by Franklin and Associates entitled “Life-Cycle Inventory (LCI) of Container Systems for Wine” on its website.
In reviewing the Franklin LCI study, the peer review panel noted that in order to be compliant with the ISO 14040 the purpose of the study had to be explicitly stated. To them it appeared, “…that Tetra Pak personnel are the only intended audience…”, to which they add that, “…this fact needs to be explicitly stated.” In response, Tetra Pak claims that it revised the Executive Summary in the final published report such that, “…the audience (Tetra Pak) is clearly stated.” However, on reading the Executive Summary one only finds the statement that, “…Tetra Pak will use the results of this study to evaluate the environmental footprint of its packages as well as alternative packages used for the same application.”
Upon releasing the LCI, Tetra Pak concurrently circulated its electronic communications piece Environews” which contains an article entitled, “Environmental Study Favours Tetra Pak Cartons for Wine.” The article touts Franklin’s findings regarding the energy and emissions profiles for aseptic, single-use glass and PET plastic packaging, and goes on to suggest the greenhouse gas benefits of converting all table wines sold in Canada to sales in Tetra Pak cartons.
As background, the Franklin LCI and Tetra Pak communications arrive in the midst of an ongoing debate regarding the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s promotion of “alternative packaging” (primarily aseptic cartons, but also PET plastic bottles, bag-in-box wine packaging and aluminum cans) in lieu of single-use glass packaging. Touted as an environmental initiative, the “alternative packaging” agenda is arguably little more than a means for the LCBO to purchase deeply discounted wines globally, have them packaged locally and drive their sales (both in domestic and export markets) through its monopoly control on the importation of beverage alcohol and its subsequent pricing, distribution and retail sales.
Clearly intended to aid the LCBO in its commercial agenda, Tetra Pak is using the Franklin LCI to garner political and commercial support — an application clearly not endorsed by the study’s reviewers.
As a tool to influence the public policy process, the Franklin LCI warrants some critical review.
Over and above a number of erroneous assumptions, the Franklin LCI suffers from one primary deficiency as a tool for evaluating alternative environmental packaging options: it does not consider the recovery and refilling of glass wine bottles as a packaging option.
Refilling wine bottles in Ontario is not as farfetched as one may think.
Consider that the LCBO has guaranteed a return on investment to investors of two newly-built Ontario aseptic packaging facilities — a guarantee delivered through the pressuring LCBO wine suppliers to adopt aseptic packaging, and assurances to those suppliers that they will have secured shelf space for their products. The point is that if the LCBO can intrude into the market to induce producers to use aseptic packaging, it can surely promote another option and establish facilities for the refilling of glass wine bottles.
Such refill facilities would provide exactly the same function as the two newly established aseptic facilities: packaging of bulk imported wines and packaging of wines produced locally in Ontario.
Given that such refilling facilities would be close to (or co-located with) LCBO bulk importation facilities, as well as Southern Ontario vintners, transportation-related energy use is minimized. In fact, where the Franklin LCI assumes typical U.S. one-way transportation distances of 2,400 kms between vintners and liquor distributors, in Ontario the typical refillable wine bottle round-trip from Beer Store return location to refill operation to LCBO retail store might be in the order of just 300 kms.
In a refillable bottle system the initial energy cost associated with the production of a glass or PET refillable bottle is amortized over the number of refills. With as few as four refills in the tight Southern Ontario market, the glass refillable bottle has an overall energy profile equivalent to or better than that afforded by a one-litre Tetra Pak. (And it can be recycled rather than disposed when it can no longer be refilled.) Numerous studies — including some by Tetra Pak — have drawn similar conclusions about the energy benefits of refilling.
High packaging recovery rates associated with deposit-refund systems are critical to localized reuse; an important first step is the February 2007 launch on a deposit-refund system for LCBO containers. Reuse in concert with high recycling rates (of what is not reused) offers the most sensible energy, emissions and waste generation reduction strategy and a real improvement in the environmental profile of LCBO packaging. This certainly makes more sense than supplanting of a small portion of a great amount of otherwise reusable and recyclable LCBO glass packaging with lightweight disposability.
NOTE: A copy of the Tetra-Pak’s “Life-Cycle Inventory (LCI) of Container Systems for Wine” is posted on our website, as well as a more in-depth analysis by this author. Visit Posted Documents and also Contributor’s Blog at www.solidwastemag.com
Usman Valiante is principal of Corporate Policy Group in Orangeville, Ontario. Contact Usman at firstname.lastname@example.org