Packaging Innovation
What’s the most eco friendly packaging material: cartons or cans? Read on to find out.
November 21, 2014

“Cans” versus “cartons” – what’s the most eco friendly packaging material?

It’s an ongoing discussion in the packaging world: what’s the most eco friendly packaging material? Cans or cartons? Cartons are more efficient to pack and ship and also require less packaging material than a steel can. And still, cans may be heavier but they’re also easier to recycle than cartons. So, which packaging material wins the battle of the environment?

Arguments in favor of cartons

Being rectangular, cartons are more efficient to pack and ship and they are also lighter than tin cans. Furthermore, Tetra Pak, the leading carton manufacturer, reports that its beverage cartons are only 4 percent packaging to 96 percent product by weight, compared to 13 percent packaging to 87 percent product for a can. Cartons are made of paper, for the most part (70 percent), a renewable resource.

Arguments against cartons

On the downside though: apart from paper, cartons – or aseptic packages to be precise – also contain aluminum and low-density polyethylene. Separating these materials for recycling purposes is tricky and not every recycling company will accept cartons.

So what about cans?

Cans may be heavier and less efficient to ship than their cardboard counterparts, they are more easily and more frequently recycled. Most cans are made from 20 to 100 percent recycled material, which helps reduce energy use. Not to mention they can be refilled instantaneously.

And yet, cans produce significantly more carbon emissions throughout their lifecycle, studies reveal. Furthermore, cartons are more favorable for the environment compared to other packaging materials such as glass containers.

Who’s the winner?

So cartons win the battle for the environment? Not quite. The goal of course is to reduce the amount of waste and even though they are environmentally friendlier, they still produce tons of excess garbage. Even better than cartons are refillable bottles and containers.

Will we be able to adopt a zero waste lifestyle, one day?