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Evaluation of environmental sustainability of biscuits at the product and sectoral levels

Konstantas, Antonios, Stamford, Laurence, Azapagic, Adisa
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.230 pp. 1217-1228
agricultural land, bakery industry, chocolate, cookies, crackers, environmental impact, eutrophication, flour, fossil fuels, global warming potential, land use change, life cycle assessment, manufacturing, palm oils, primary energy, rapeseed oil, raw materials, sugars, supply chain, sweets, United Kingdom
Biscuits are a major product category in the global confectionary sector. Despite this, their environmental impacts are poorly characterised. Therefore, this paper sets out to evaluate the life cycle environmental sustainability of the following widely-consumed types of biscuit, both at the product and sectoral levels: crackers, low fat/sugar, semi-sweet, chocolate-coated and sandwich biscuits with chocolate or vanilla cream. The results obtained through life cycle assessment demonstrate that, in addition to being healthier, low fat/sugar biscuits have the lowest impacts across most of the 18 categories considered. Chocolate-coated biscuits are environmentally the least sustainable. The most significant life cycle stage for all types is the raw materials production, causing 41%–61% of the total impacts, with flour, sugar and palm oil being the key hotspots. Replacing palm with rapeseed oil would improve five impacts but worsen another five, including a 34% increase in agricultural land occupation and marine eutrophication. Therefore, the cultivation and production of palm oil, rather than its replacement, should be targeted for improvements. The second most crucial stage is manufacturing, contributing up to 54% of the impacts, followed by transport with up to 35%. Reducing energy consumption by 25% in manufacturing would reduce primary energy demand by 8%–12%, fossil fuel depletion by 9%–12% and global warming potential by 6%–9%. The latter would increase by 55% if land use change related to cocoa was involved, despite a very small amount of cocoa in the biscuits (∼1%). The analysis at a sectoral level in the UK, the leading consumer of biscuits in Europe, reveals that biscuits contribute 7.4% of primary energy demand and 0.5% of greenhouse gas emissions of the whole UK food sector. These results can help guide manufacturers in mitigating the hotspots in the supply chain and consumers in selecting environmentally more sustainable biscuits.