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Carbon footprint and primary energy demand of organic tea in China using a life cycle assessment approach

Xu, Qiang, Hu, Kelin, Wang, Xiaolong, Wang, Donghui, Knudsen, Marie Trydeman
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.233 pp. 782-792
boiling, carbon, carbon footprint, cradle-to-grave, crop production, electricity, emissions factor, energy conservation, environmental impact, farmers, organic foods, organic production, packaging, primary energy, supermarkets, tea, China
China has the largest tea production and the highest number of tea farmers in the world. Overfertilization in traditional tea production leads to serious environmental problems. A shift toward organic production and consumption has been enhanced recently as one of the potential solutions to reduce environmental impacts. A life cycle assessment approach was used to assess carbon footprint and primary energy demand for five Chinese organic tea products in this study. Two functional units were chosen: 1 kg of dry tea for cradle to supermarket gate and 1 cup of tea for cradle to grave. Results showed that different farming managements and processing technologies exerted major effects on carbon footprints and primary energy demand of different tea products. Hotspots were identified as cultivation, processing, and packaging for cradle to supermarket gate. However, from a whole life cycle perspective tea consumption was a major hotspot. The most sensitive contributing factors, including the amount of boiling water and carbon emission factors of electricity, had great impacts on the accuracy of the final results. Scenario analysis showed a potential for emission reduction (49–65%) and energy saving (46–66%) by comprehensively using improvement strategies. This study furthermore highlighted the tradeoff between high tea quality and low carbon footprint.