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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.