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The Significance of Environmental Attributes as Indicators of the Life Cycle Environmental Impacts of Packaging and Food Service Ware

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posted on 17.04.2020, 17:33 by Jorge Vendries, Beverly Sauer, Troy R. Hawkins, David Allaway, Peter Canepa, Jonathan Rivin, Minal Mistry
The environmental impacts of packaging and food service ware (FSW) are increasingly the subject of government policy, public discourse, and industry commitments. While some consideration is given to reducing the impacts of packaging across its entire life cycle, most of the focus is on packaging waste or feedstock substitution. Efforts typically focus on specific packaging characteristics, or material attributes, commonly perceived to be environmentally preferable. This article summarizes an extensive meta-review of existing published literature that was performed to determine whether the material attributes recyclability, recycled content, compostability, and biobased, commonly considered to be environmentally beneficial, correlate with lower net environmental impacts across the full life cycle of the packaging and FSW. Seventy-one unique life cycle assessment (LCA) studies that quantify the environmental impacts throughout the entire life cycle of packaging and FSW were analyzed. These studies included over 5000 comparisons for 13 impact categories commonly analyzed in LCA studies. The results from the meta-review identified a number of instances where material attributes do not correlate with environmental benefits for packaging and FSW. Rather, other characteristics such as material choice or mass of the packaging/FSW products can have higher influence in determining life cycle impacts.