EU single-use beverage container industry unlikely to achieve climate targets

A new study into the decarbonisation of single-use drinks packaging has found that the European beverage container industry is unlikely to meet 1.5C climate targets and is at risk of missing Net Zero without swift intervention.

Zero Waste Europe commissioned Eunomia Research & Consulting to investigate the Net Zero pathways for aluminium, PET (plastic), and glass products when used in EU drinks packaging.

The ‘Decarbonisation of single-use beverage packaging: Investigating 1.5 °C future by 2050’ report found that all three materials are projected to exceed their allocated carbon budget by at least 50%. Single-use glass is the most significant contributor (+200% exceedance) followed by PET (+150%) and aluminium (50%). Collectively, they face significant challenges to stop or reduce the emission of global greenhouse gases (GHGs) as the result of their manufacture – posing a risk to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050.

Key highlights from the discussion

  • Even with no growth in beverage container consumption, the industry is likely to significantly overshoot the proposed cumulative emissions budget aimed at staying within 1.5 °C warming.
  • All three beverage container materials face significant challenges in decarbonisation:
    • Aluminium – transitioning the smelting process to run on green energy will take substantial investments due to its high energy requirement.
    • PET – a fundamental shift in the value chain to bio-based feedstock is necessary, but technical hurdles currently exist and may conflict with the fossil-focused nature of the industry.
    • Glass – electrifying gas furnaces will require either a costly and complete infrastructure upgrade or a gradual replacement of legacy systems. Despite efforts, glass manufacturing will continue to have high energy consumption.
  • GHG emissions per unit of packaging material are consistently 3-4 times higher for glass bottles compared to aluminium and PET throughout the decarbonisation pathway.
    Investment in technology, developing reuse systems, enhanced recycling, and reducing demand for aluminium, PET, and glass materials are recommended as priorities to help the beverage container industry to achieve their Net Zero targets.

The research and its findings have further relevance in the context of the current revision of the EU Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR).


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