What Is the Carbon Footprint of Packaging?

What is the most sustainable choice when it comes to packaging?
January 16, 2023
2 minutes

What is the carbon footprint of your usual packaging options? The answer to this question is complex, as many factors need to be taken into account. In this article, we’ll assess the impact of the most common packaging materials, and suggest ways you can reduce your packaging’s Carbon Footprint.

The Carbon Footprint of packaging

The carbon footprint of packaging is the total amount of carbon dioxide (C0) and other greenhouse gases emitted over the life of that product. This includes all greenhouse gases generated in the manufacture of the raw materials, transformation of the packaging, transportation during the process (to the factory, from the factory to the storage facility or to the end end consumer), and end of life of your packaging, ie recycling or management of waste derived from packaging.

As an example, food packaging accounts on average for 5% of the energy used in the life cycle of a  product making it a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Based on review papers such as Brogaard et al. (2014), some of the most common packaging types and their approximated respective carbon footprints (based on material used only) include the following materials:

  • Cardboard & Paper: 0.94kg carbon emissions per 1kg of packaging
  • Styrofoam: 1.16kg carbon emissions per 1kg of packaging
  • Aluminum: 2.32kg carbon emissions per 1kg of packaging
  • Plastic: 3.50kg carbon emissions per 1kg of packaging

How you can Reduce Your Packaging’s Carbon Footprint

Some materials can have surprisingly high carbon footprint – however with a few simple changes, you can ensure your packaging does the least harm to the environment possible.

Some of the steps you can implement here include:

  • Using less packaging in your products, eliminating unnecessary packaging parts. A great example is Nike's One Box, ditching the double box to leverage their shoeboxes as delivery boxes
  • Adopting plastic-free packaging alternatives, such as plant-based plastics or paper-based products. You will find hundreds of  plastic free options on
  • Ensuring every element of your packaging is eco-friendly, including tape, stickers or tissue papers made from recycled or FSC paper.
  • Using recycled and recyclable packaging to cut the impact of producing new packaging from new raw materials. This also helps prevent packaging from ending in landfills and harming the environment for hundreds of years.

Final Thoughts

While we often talk about the carbon impact of products, packaging itself can often have a surprisingly substantial  footprint. Whether you’re a business looking to reduce its environmental impacts or a consumer looking to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle, there are fortunately steps you can take to minimize the carbon footprints of your packaging – without necessarily having to compromise on quality.

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Brogaard, L. K., Damgaard, A., Jensen, M. B., Barlaz, M., & Christensen, T. H. (2014). Evaluation of life cycle inventory data for recycling systems. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 87, 30-45. Link here,posed%20by%20its%20slow%20degradation.