Assessing the life cycle of food processing RelyGreen Blog

Assessing the life cycle of food packaging

Learn how a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) helps unravel the environmental impact of food packaging… from design to disposal

How do you determine the “greenness” of your food packaging?

The acronym LCA, otherwise known as Life Cycle Assessment is the legitimate scientific approach to measuring the impact that your food package can have on the environment.

Life Cycle Assessment provides a framework that gauges the eco-footprint of a product from “cradle to grave” – helping you examine each process and activity that goes into making, using, and disposing of food packaging products.

An LCA takes into account the following criteria’s to help manufacturers find room for improvement in their processes and empower businesses to facilitate decision-making that supports environmental sustainability:

  1. Get a wider understanding of the Extraction Process by analyzing the raw materials used, and the natural resources that go into harvesting the core ingredient of the product.
  2. Ascertain that the Manufacturing Process does not lead to harmful emissions or wastage of essential resources like water.
  3. Analyze the Distribution Journey of a product from factory to retail center to your doorstep – enabling you to explore sustainable supply chain avenues for sourcing, storing, and distribution of products.
  4. Explore the Usage Applications of the product by examining the shelf-life of the packaging (whether it is use-and-throw or-reusable), check if it is heat-resistant or can be used for reheating, and much more.
  5. Finally, take steps to ensure that the discarded package is Circulated or Disposed in a manner where it is efficiently recycled and doesn’t find its way onto a landfill or ocean floor.   

Without further ado, let us delve deeper into the Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) for various types of Food Packaging Products:

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for Plastic Food Packaging:

Plastic has emerged as the “material of choice” for its various food packaging applications. For all its benefits, a Life Cycle Assessment of plastic brings to the fore the dangerous impact that it can have on our environment.

According to a study by Trucost, “The environmental cost to society of consumer plastic products and packaging was over $139 billion in 2015, equivalent to almost 20% of plastic manufacturing sector revenue, and is expected to grow (to $209 billion by 2025) if current trends persist.”

Extraction Process – An LCA overview shows that 90% of the plastics are produced from fossil feedstock derived from crude oil, natural gas, and coal.

Manufacturing Process – Notwithstanding, the manufacturing phase fares no better with studies revealing that one tonne of plastic generates up to 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is set to grow at 2.75 billion tonnes by 2050.

Distribution Journey – With the plastic forecast set to grow by 60% in 2030, the logistic support to move plastic products can invariably become an environmental hazard.

Usage Applications – Known for its versatile design which can be thin, thick, rigid, or flexible, the functional aspects of plastic packaging include its lightweight design, extended shelf life, transparent and durable covering that makes it shatter-proof and heat-resistant, and the fact that it is the most cost-effective alternative to keeping your food safe and fresh.

Circulation or Disposability – With less than a third of all plastic products being recycled in the UK, 80% of plastic waste will reach landfills and oceans where Plastic outnumbers sea life by six to one.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for Bagasse Food Packaging:

Eco-friendly food packaging solutions that include Bagasse takeaway containers  – which are biodegradable, fully compostable – can significantly lower the environmental impact of food packaging.

Bagasse is the pulpy residue that remains after the juice is extracted from the sugarcane shoots.

Extraction Process – An LCA for Bagasse containers shows that the plant is ripe for harvesting under any conditions with a turnaround time of 12 to 18 months in tropical regions like Brazil, Vietnam, China, and Thailand where sugar production is generally high. Just like paddy, sugarcane consumes a high amount of water, yet the Bagasse extract constitutes roughly 30% of the sugarcane plant.

Manufacturing Process – After the Bagasse extract arrives at the manufacturing facility as a wet pulp. It undergoes a series of heated-induced drying, pressing, and moulding processes to create dinnerware products water and oil resistant using additional inter-fiber bonding. Most of the processes are completely natural with no excessive chemical residues, binders, coatings, or machinery that leads to air pollution.

Distribution Journey – From the field to the factory to distribution centers, the product can be extensively transported. Yet, the easy-to-store and lightweight properties of bagasse packaging make it easy to ship with only 1% to 5% burden on the environment.

Usage Applications – Bagasse containers are thermal resistant and have insulation properties that can be used to store hot food and be reheated using a microwave. The fibrous texture makes it durable and firm enough to package wholesome meals. Being water and grease-resistant, bagasse is ideal for packaging soups and drinks.

Circulation or Disposability – Bagasse is both home and commercially compostable, the rate of decomposition of Bagasse products can vary depending on the moisture or heat. Shredding bagasse products before composting can speed up the process.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for Areca Food Packaging:

For ages, Areca sheaths were considered Agro-waste, but since the awakening of global sustainability challenges over the last decade.  This by-product of the Areca plant (typically famed for the betel nut) has now found a space as an effective eco-friendly alternative to plastic food packaging.

Extraction Process – Areca plant is indigenous to the Indian Sub-continent and other regions with Tropical temperatures. The raw material is extracted from naturally fallen sheaths – ensuring that “No trees are harmed or cut” during extraction. Approximately, 1 areca palm sheds about 5 to 6 sheaths per month. 

Manufacturing Process – The fallen sheaths are collected and stored at the manufacturing site, where it has been completely dry to avoid fungus infestation. The manufacturing process consists of manual or automatic (hydraulic) heating and pressing processes with no chemicals or contaminants either used or dispersed in the air. After the plates are molded and cut according to their shape and size, the remnants of the waste sheaths are shredded into powder that can be used as animal fodder.

Usage Applications – Areca plates and bowls come in various sizes and shapes. They are a Biodegradable, compostable, and renewable resource that is 100% natural and non-toxic. Ideal for takeaway and parties. This sturdy dinnerware can easily hold hot and cold food while being oil and grease-resistant.

Circulation or Disposability – Often use as single-use food ware, disposed areca packaging is said to degrade in landfills within a couple of months. Alas, studies also show that incineration the used areca remains can be used as cattle fodder and has a faster decomposition rate.

Conclusion:

Life Cycle Assessments can be a game-changer in the food packaging industry – helping you make informed decisions with relevant data at your disposal. Find the right product that is devoid of unnecessary exploitation of natural resources, can be cheaper to source and procure, and know exactly what the environmental impact is and proper waste disposal techniques.

Utilizing an LCA can lead your business towards the path of environmental sustainability.

Please do share your inputs in the comment section.

Leave a Reply