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Assessing the Environmental Sustainability of Food Packaging: An Extended Life Cycle Assessment including Packaging-Related Food Losses and Waste and Circularity Assessment

Erik Pauer, Bernhard Wohner , Victoria Heinrich and Manfred Tacker

Food packaging helps to protect food from being lost or wasted, nevertheless it is perceived as an environmental problem. The present study gives an overview of methods to assess the environmental sustainability of food packaging. Furthermore, we propose a methodological framework for environmental assessment of food packaging. There is a broad consensus on the definition of sustainable packaging, which has to be effective, efficient, and safe for human health and the environment. Existing frameworks only provide general guidance on how to quantify the environmental sustainability of packaging. Our proposed framework defines three sustainability aspects of food packaging, namely direct environmental effects of packaging, packaging-related food losses and waste, as well as circularity. It provides a list of key environmental performance indicators and recommends certain calculation procedures for each indicator. The framework is oriented towards the Product Environmental Footprint initiative and the Circular Economy Package of the European Union. Further research should develop a method to determine the amount of packaging-related food losses and waste. Moreover, future studies should examine the potential environmental benefits of different measures to make food packaging more circular.


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Packaging-Related Food Losses and Waste:An Overview of Drivers and Issues

Bernhard Wohner, Erik Pauer, Victoria Heinrich and Manfred Tacker

Packaging is often criticized as a symbol of today’s throwaway society, as it is mostly made of plastic, which is in itself quite controversial, and is usually used only once. However, as packaging’s main function is to protect its content and 30% of all food produced worldwide is lost or wasted along the supply chain, optimized packaging may be one of the solutions to reduce this staggering amount. Developing countries struggle with losses in the supply chain before food reaches the consumer. Here, appropriate packaging may help to protect food and prolong its shelf life so that it safely reaches these households. In developed countries, food tends to be wasted rather at the household’s level due to wasteful behavior. There, packaging may be one of the drivers due to inappropriate packaging sizes and packaging that is difficult to empty. When discussing the sustainability of packaging, its protective function is often neglected and only revolves around the type and amount of material used for production. In this review, drivers, issues, and implications of packaging-related food losses and waste (FLW) are discussed, as well as the implication for the implementation in life cycle assessments (LCA).

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