D4.4 Report on the sustainability indicators of bio-, active and intelligent packaging solutions
WP4 of the GLOPACK project aims to investigate the efficiency of the innovative packaging concept, i.e. a biodegradable packaging obtained from agro-food residues and including active and intelligent functionalities. This document D4.4 deals with the evaluation of food loss reduction and environmental sustainability of food products packed in the innovative packaging.
The main objective is to evaluate the environmental performance over the entire food supply chain of three food products (i.e. falafel, cheese and beef) packed in GLOPACK packaging and to compare it to the case where the products are packed in the benchmark reference packaging. In order to achieve a comprehensive analysis, a framework is introduced and applied. This framework focuses on the evaluation of five aspects to obtain a broad analysis of the environmental sustainability of plastic packaging:
- Direct impacts of packaging through production and disposal;Direct impacts of packed food by production and consumption;
- Indirect impacts of packed food due to food loss and waste influenced by the packaging material;
- Direct impacts of packed food by improper management;
- Circularity of packaging
To evaluate the environmental performance of the packaging and packed food products, life cycle assessment (LCA) according to the ISO standards is used.
Regarding the direct impacts of packaging through production and disposal, the resource footprint, carbon footprint and overall environmental performance are calculated. For the latter two, the life cycle impact assessment method “Environmental Footprint” is used, while the resource footprint is computed by the “CEENE” method. On top, the cumulative degree of perfection is used to give a picture of resource efficiency in case of the newly developed GLOPACK packaging.
In the case of direct and indirect impacts of packed food, LCA is used to evaluate the environmental performance of the whole packaging/food system. Kinetic equations are used to build scenarios for the change in food loss and waste (FLW) due to the use of GLOPACK packaging that could affect the shelf life and hence influences the amount of FLW through the food supply chain. Also the environmental impact of an increased amount of FLW is calculated by LCA. Finally, the ratio between the environmental burden of the packaging and the packed food is defined to indicate the relative importance of the packaging.
The framework also includes the impact on marine littering (direct impacts of packaging by improper management), for which LCA currently has no impact categories to measure the burden, through two newly developed indicators: “plastic leakage to the marine environment” and, “impact on marine ecosystem services”. A literature review is performed to estimate the amount of European plastic waste leaking into the marine environment. The impacts of PHBV (GLOPACK packaging) and polypropylene (PP) (one of the benchmark reference packaging) on marine ecosystem services are compared (in monetary value) based on their biodegradation times.
With respect to circularity, descriptive indicators are used based on characteristics such as recoverability degree and secondary sourcing degree. In this case, therefore, only data on the composition is used.
Results & implications
The first step in the GLOPACK packaging production is PHBV (poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate)-based pellet production made from agro-food waste. The production of PHBV powder, which consumes a high amount of electricity and nutrients (including micronutrients), is identified as the main contributor to the environmental impact of PHBV pellets in terms of the three impact categories analysed: resource footprint, carbon footprint and a single score. This finding is independent of whether or not the PHBV pellets consist of milled fibre and/or active compounds in addition to PHBV material. Consequently, more attention should be paid to the optimisation of PHBV production, more specifically to lowering the consumption of electricity and nutrients. The environmental impacts of PHBV pellets can be reduced when milled fibres are added; however, this might lead to technical constraints on the conversion of pellets into packaging materials (i.e. trays, cups, films). In addition, GLOPACK PHBV pellets are more environmentally beneficial in terms of global warming impact and single score compared to polylactic acid (PLA) pellets and in terms of resource footprint compared to PP pellets.
When comparing the environmental sustainability of the production of the GLOPACK packaging to the benchmark reference by relying on standard LCA, the results are always in favour of the latter. The high mass of the trays compared to the reference packaging contributes to the high environmental impact per GLOPACK tray for all three impact categories. The fact that much more energy is required for injection moulding in processing GLOPACK compared to the reference packaging, explains why the reference cups are more environmentally friendly than the GLOPACK cups. With respect to the different end-of-life scenarios for GLOPACK packaging, incineration results in the lowest impact. This is because the added value of the avoided products from incineration compared to composting and anaerobic digestion is higher.
In terms of food products, the impact of products of animal origin (cheese and beef) is higher than that of plant-based products (falafel). The greater the impact of the food product itself, the more the packaging should aim
to reduce FLW. For instance, reducing the shelf life of beef by two days results in a huge increase in environmental impact.
The probability of a plastic waste collected in Europe to become marine litter (i.e. leak to the marine environment) is estimated to be 0.02%. This value does not vary amongst PHBV and PP. It means that 1 kg of plastic waste collected in Europe might potentially lead to 0.2 g of marine litter. A range of cumulative costs on marine ecosystem services is estimated based on four scenarios. For PHBV, the total costs are ranging from 0.002 to 0.02 EUR2020 / kg plastic waste collected in EU. For PP or any non-biodegradable plastic, the total costs are ranging from 0.026 to 0.26 EUR2020 / kg plastic waste collected in EU. In parallel to other actions preventing plastic leakage, the use of biodegradable packaging has potential to limit the environmental consequences of plastic leakages.
With respect to circularity, PHBV-based packaging is made from agro-food waste and compostable. The results for the reference packaging differ, while some have a recycled content, they are not recyclable. Others are recyclable but are made from virgin resources. Also, to come to a full evaluation, more region-specific information is required regarding the efficiency and capability of waste management facilities.
To conclude, the proposed framework allows a broader evaluation of the GLOPACK packaging. While technical improvements might still be possible with respect to the production, it is also very important to make sure the shelf life is not affected, as the environmental sustainability should always be analysed in relation to food products.