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Assessment of carbon footprint of nano-packaging considering potential food waste reduction due to shelf life extension

Zhang, Bruce Yizhe, Tong, Yifan, Singh, Soumya, Cai, Hua, Huang, Jen-Yi
Resources, conservation, and recycling 2019 v.149 pp. 322-331
carbon footprint, consumer behavior, developed countries, emissions, food industry, food preservation, food waste, foods, global warming potential, life cycle assessment, nanomaterials, polymers, shelf life, waste reduction
Approximately 30 to 50% of food produced is wasted in industrialized countries, which has caused severe impacts both economically and environmentally. Recently, nano-packaging has been proved to be a promising technology to significantly prolong the shelf life of many food products, and thus a potential solution for source reduction of food waste. However, the production of nanomaterials requires extra input of resources and generates additional emissions and wastes. This study conducted a life cycle assessment to evaluate the net carbon footprint of nano-packaging from a systems perspective, considering its entire life cycle and ultimate application for food preservation. Based on the defined functional unit (i.e., 1 kg of food product and the required amount of nano-packaging materials), the global warming potential (GWP) associated with the nano-packaging system was highly affected by the concentration of incorporated nanomaterials and the type of packaged food. Furthermore, the packaging-food ratio played an important role in the relative contributions of nanomaterial, polymer, and food to the GWP of a nano-packaging system. A consumer behavior study was also performed to more accurately correlate food shelf life extension with food waste reduction. The results indicated that even with less than 3 days of shelf life extension, there is a potential to gain a net beneficial effect of the use of nano-packaging on carbon footprint mitigation. This study developed a novel conceptual framework enabling a comparative assessment of direct life cycle impacts of nano-packaging in parallel to indirect benefits related to its use stage. The results are expected provide food manufacturers with the groundwork to make more informed decisions on nano-packaging applications.