A lifecycle analysis (LCA) study comparing the carbon footprint of plastic reusable transit packaging (RTP) with corrugated board has triggered wider debate about the transparency of LCA data and the way such studies are audited and reported.
Environmental consultancy Sustain originally published its report for RTP producer Linpac Allibert around 18 months ago. This used the methodology of the then new Publicly Available Specification PAS 2050. This year, its conclusions regarding the carbon footprint have been verified by certification body Lloyds Register Quality Assurance (LRQA).
Linpac claimed the study showed its RTP crates to be more carbon-efficient than single-trip corrugated after just 20 trips. But since, over a five year life, a crate could make over 90 trips, the study concluded the carbon footprint was 67.8% less than single-trip board.
Other carbon comparisons have been calculated in recent years, including one contrasting glass bottles with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) for wine. That, too, met with criticism at the time.
Even a defined methodology like PAS 2050 will leave room for potentially partisan adjustments. Critics in the case of RTP, the UK corrugated industry have called for parameters and key data to be published.
But Simon Mendes, senior product manager at Linpac Allibert, said: "We've spent a substantial sum on this, so why would we give it away to the industry for nothing? It also contains a lot of information about our plants' energy consumption. That's confidential."
He argued that the use of PAS 2050, Sustain's reputation and the "independent verification" by LRQA should give its figures all the credibility they needed.
The Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) is not convinced. Corrugated sector manager Andrew Barnetson said: "The company appears to be making generalisations based on a specific case. This is in contravention of the ISO 14040 standard regarding lifecycle analysis."