Reducing the carbon footprint of spirits through circular packaging: case study for Smirnoff Ice.

Main Presenter: Isolda Agustí-Juan 

Co-Authors: Kirstie McIntyre

The global alcoholic beverage industry is an important economic sector with a retail sales value of £728 billion [4] and one of the major consumers of glass packaging [2]. Excellent barrier properties, sterility, reusability, and shape adaptability make glass the preferred material for packaging spirits, wine, and beer. However, glass bottle manufacturing requires significant amounts of heat and fossil fuels and the need of water and chemicals for the washing process. Furthermore, in some countries, due to a limited recycling capability, glass bottles are often landfilled [1]. These and other factors are directly linked with long-term environmental pollution.

Decreasing the production of glass bottles while keeping up with the increasing consumer demand is a big challenge for spirit producers. Reducing the overall environmental burden of glass bottles requires the transition to circular supply chain models based on bottle reuse and the use of alternative packaging materials [5]. The aim of this study is to compare the cradle-to-grave life cycle environmental impacts of three packaging scenarios for Smirnoff Ice 275 ml bottles: current single use glass bottles, reusable glass bottles and aluminium cans. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) framework [3] was applied for the evaluation, using the IPCC 2013 method for the calculation of Greenhouse Gas emissions. The data inventory for each packaging format combined primary data provided by the Smirnoff brand and secondary data from Ecoivent 3.7.1 database.

The study shows that out of the three packaging formats assessed, the reusable glass bottle has the lowest carbon footprint, including primary packaging production, distribution, and waste management. When reused 6 times, its total carbon footprint is 70% lower than the single use glass bottle. Moving to reusable bottles requires a 35% increase in glass weight to improve durability, which results in a 17% increase in carbon emissions from distribution when compared to single use glass. Furthermore, the reusable bottles are returned and washed after consumer use, which adds an additional 17% to the total carbon footprint. These additional carbon emissions are widely compensated by the reduction of embodied carbon and end-of-life impacts derived from glass reuse, which benefits are already tangible after the first reuse cycle.

The outcomes of this study highlight the importance of investing in reuse solutions based on return, washing, and refilling packaging. Implementing circular models is crucial for organisations to achieve their net zero carbon and waste reduction targets.

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