Baselining Packaging in Retail

Project Overview 

Status: Complete (2020)

Retail has a major impact on the environment as the production of consumer goods is highly resource intensive.  Agricultural activities, for example, use about 70% of global freshwater, 40% of earth’s inhabitable land and emit 24% of CO2 emissions. Packaging plays vital roles to minimize food waste (extend shelf life), allow for adequate quality and hygiene standards, and protect goods during transportation and handling, while also serving other purposes such as marketing and convenience. However, packaging has become a considerable and increasing threat for the environment itself. The topic of sustainable packaging has gained tremendous momentum with consumer boycotts, government bans, and industry commitments. Likewise, Denner AG has announced to reduce packaging by at least 20% until 2025.

​In January 2019, sus.lab developed a concept for an “Innovation Centre for Sustainable Retail”, co-financed by Climate-KIC, to accelerate innovation towards a sustainable society. Literature research and interviews with retailers, brand owners, industry data providers and authorities revealed that fundamental information on the amount of packaging was missing. Up to this point, quantifications for packaging were approximated top-down using the amounts of "raw material" procured by the retailer. This approach disallows the assessment of the type and amount of packaging used per product or product category and therefore prohibiting systematic and effective packaging optimization. 

​To fill this information gap, we developed the unique “Packaging Baseline” with Denner. In June 2019, we started to unpack the entire national standard product portfolio, covering over 3600 products. Linking the packaging data with sales data allowed us to calculate the absolute yearly amounts of packaging produced. The results show how much packaging of which packaging material is used, as well as which packaging is used for which products (report to be published soon). This rich database now provides transparency across the industry and can provide the foundation to support policy makers and industry players to transition towards a circular economy in retail. 

If you’d like to get in touch with us, please contact Julia Bachmann or Catharina Bening.

Funding and Partners
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News and Blog Features 
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Packaging Database for Fact-Checking Sustainability Promises

ETHZ News - 07.01.2021

ETH researchers have created a database of over 3,000 primary and secondary packaging items from the range of the retailer Denner as a basis for ensuring more environmentally friendly packaging. Read More.