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The environmental impact of packaging in food supply chains—does life cycle assessment of food provide the full picture?

Molina-Besch, Katrin LU ; Wikström, Fredrik and Williams, Helén (2018) In International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Abstract
Purpose: Due to the urgency and the magnitude of the environmental problems caused by food supply chains, it is important that the recommendations for packaging improvements given in life cycle assessment (LCA) studies of food rest on a balanced consideration of all relevant environmental impacts of packaging. The purpose of this article is to analyse the extent to which food
LCAs include the indirect environmental impact of packaging in parallel to its direct impact. While the direct environmental impact of food packaging is the impact caused by packaging materials’ production and end-of-life, its indirect environmental impact is caused by its influence on the food product’s life cycle, e.g. by its influence on food waste and on... (More)
Purpose: Due to the urgency and the magnitude of the environmental problems caused by food supply chains, it is important that the recommendations for packaging improvements given in life cycle assessment (LCA) studies of food rest on a balanced consideration of all relevant environmental impacts of packaging. The purpose of this article is to analyse the extent to which food
LCAs include the indirect environmental impact of packaging in parallel to its direct impact. While the direct environmental impact of food packaging is the impact caused by packaging materials’ production and end-of-life, its indirect environmental impact is caused by its influence on the food product’s life cycle, e.g. by its influence on food waste and on logistical efficiency.
Methods: The article presents a review of 32 food LCAs published in peer-reviewed scientific journals over the last decade. The steps of the food product’s life cycle that contribute to the direct and indirect environmental impacts of packaging provide the overall structure of the analytical framework used for the review. Three aspects in the selected food LCAs were analysed: (1) the defined scope of the LCAs, (2) the sensitivity and/or scenario analyses and (3) the conclusions and recommendations.
Results and discussion: While in packaging LCA literature, there is a trend towards a more systematic consideration of the indirect environmental impact of packaging, it is unclear how food LCAs handle this aspect. The results of the review show that the choices regarding scope and sensitivities/scenarios made in food LCAs and their conclusions about packaging focus on the direct environmental impact of packaging. While it is clear that not all food LCAs need to analyse packaging in detail, this article identifies opportunities to increase the validity of packaging-related conclusions in food LCAs and provides specific
recommendations for packaging-related food LCA methodology.
Conclusions: Overall, we conclude that the indirect environmental impact of packaging is insufficiently considered in current food LCA practice. Based on these results, this article calls for a more systematic consideration of the indirect environmental impact of packaging in future food LCAs. In addition, it identifies a need for more packaging research that can provide the empirical data
that many food LCA practitioners currently lack. In particular, LCA practitioners would benefit if there were more knowledge and data available about the influence of certain packaging characteristics (e.g. shape, weight and type of material) on consumer behaviour. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
epub
subject
keywords
Food, Food supply chain, Food waste, Life cycle assessment, Packaging, Review
in
International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
publisher
Ecomed Publishers
external identifiers
  • scopus:85051721913
ISSN
0948-3349
DOI
10.1007/s11367-018-1500-6
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
92372b8d-e98d-4610-8be7-3ef071d71cd2
date added to LUP
2018-08-14 14:48:35
date last changed
2018-09-16 04:56:37
@article{92372b8d-e98d-4610-8be7-3ef071d71cd2,
  abstract     = {Purpose: Due to the urgency and the magnitude of the environmental problems caused by food supply chains, it is important that the recommendations for packaging improvements given in life cycle assessment (LCA) studies of food rest on a balanced consideration of all relevant environmental impacts of packaging. The purpose of this article is to analyse the extent to which food<br/>LCAs include the indirect environmental impact of packaging in parallel to its direct impact. While the direct environmental impact of food packaging is the impact caused by packaging materials’ production and end-of-life, its indirect environmental impact is caused by its influence on the food product’s life cycle, e.g. by its influence on food waste and on logistical efficiency.<br/>Methods: The article presents a review of 32 food LCAs published in peer-reviewed scientific journals over the last decade. The steps of the food product’s life cycle that contribute to the direct and indirect environmental impacts of packaging provide the overall structure of the analytical framework used for the review. Three aspects in the selected food LCAs were analysed: (1) the defined scope of the LCAs, (2) the sensitivity and/or scenario analyses and (3) the conclusions and recommendations.<br/>Results and discussion: While in packaging LCA literature, there is a trend towards a more systematic consideration of the indirect environmental impact of packaging, it is unclear how food LCAs handle this aspect. The results of the review show that the choices regarding scope and sensitivities/scenarios made in food LCAs and their conclusions about packaging focus on the direct environmental impact of packaging. While it is clear that not all food LCAs need to analyse packaging in detail, this article identifies opportunities to increase the validity of packaging-related conclusions in food LCAs and provides specific<br/>recommendations for packaging-related food LCA methodology.<br/>Conclusions: Overall, we conclude that the indirect environmental impact of packaging is insufficiently considered in current food LCA practice. Based on these results, this article calls for a more systematic consideration of the indirect environmental impact of packaging in future food LCAs. In addition, it identifies a need for more packaging research that can provide the empirical data<br/>that many food LCA practitioners currently lack. In particular, LCA practitioners would benefit if there were more knowledge and data available about the influence of certain packaging characteristics (e.g. shape, weight and type of material) on consumer behaviour.},
  author       = {Molina-Besch, Katrin and Wikström, Fredrik and Williams, Helén},
  issn         = {0948-3349},
  keyword      = {Food, Food supply chain, Food waste, Life cycle assessment, Packaging, Review},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {08},
  publisher    = {Ecomed Publishers},
  series       = {International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment},
  title        = {The environmental impact of packaging in food supply chains—does life cycle assessment of food provide the full picture?},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11367-018-1500-6},
  year         = {2018},
}