No one can doubt the growing consumer concern over the potentially adverse environmental effects caused by carbon emissions into our atmosphere from continuous combustion of fossil fuels in our manufacturing and transportation industries. Fossil fuels are mineral deposits and not bio-renewable. Therefore, their carbon emissions cause a net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, leading to the adverse climate change known as the “greenhouse effect.” The food and kindred products industry is estimated to be responsible for about 20–30% of total greenhouse gas emissions (Baldwin, 2010).
The quantity of carbon dioxide emissions generated by a product, system, or supply chain per unit of output on a lifecycle basis is known as the “carbon footprint” of that activity, and is used as a measure of this adverse effect on climate change.
Growing interest in the need to assure long-term sustainability of human activity in harmony with our natural environment has led to a strong desire to know the carbon footprint of the manufacture and distribution of goods and services worldwide. This has become particularly true of the food industry. So much so, that a regional workshop on fruit and vegetable processing held in the EU in 2009 recommended carbon footprint labeling on food products (Bonduelle, 2009).
A recent scientific bulletin of the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST, 2010) reported that environmentally conscious food companies are beginning to look at the carbon footprint of alternative processing and packaging systems. This is being done in an effort to choose alternatives with the least footprint, which often goes hand-in-hand with decreased cost.
Understanding the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions involved in the manufacture of a product can help a business to set strategies for decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases. An example of this type of analysis was presented by Waterson and Gillin (2009) in comparing factors leading to the carbon footprint of the handling and distribution of shelf-stable foods packaged in flexible retortable pouches as an alternative to traditional metal cans and glass jars or bottles. Some of the interesting statistics reported were:
• One truckload of quart-size pouches replaced nine truck-loads of quart-size bottles.
• One truck trip of 1,000 miles consuming 250 gal of fuel at a cost of $1,400 replaced nine truck trips consuming 2,250 gal of fuel at a cost of $12,600.
• Two man hours of labor to load/unload one truck of pouches replaced 18 man hours to load/unload nine trucks.
• Fifty-two (52) forklift trips needed to load/unload one truck of pouches replaced 468 forklift trips to load/unload nine trucks of bottles.
With respect to fabrication of the empty packages, the energy needed for flexible pouch manufacturing was reported to be 75% less than that needed for an equivalent metal can (FPA, 2009). With respect to disposal and recyclability, pouches are not considered recyclable in the United States because of their construction with laminated films. However, in Europe, pouches are considered recyclable by converting them to energy through industrial incinerators. They could also be recycled as feedstock in a thermal compression process to manufacture construction materials in the form of sheets or panels. Such panels offer excellent soundproofing and insulation qualities that make them superior to traditional wood-based panels in applications such as furniture, countertops, flooring, roofing, dividing walls, and kitchen cabinets. This type of panel product was developed by Tetra Pak, and is produced in various countries under the brand name Yekpan®. The panels are composed of 70–90% paper, 10–25% low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and about 5% aluminum. These are original components of the recycled raw material in flexible retortable pouches and “brickpack” beverage containers (Ayrilmis, 2008).
Hopefully, this perspective will help to illustrate the new paradigm of thinking that is needed in the food industry to choose strategies for manufacturing and distribution operations that reflect genuine concern for long-term environmental sustainability.
Almonacid is grateful for support through the FONDECYT Project No.1090689 and 1090628.
Sergio Almonacid ([email protected]), a Member of IFT, is Professor, Ricardo Simpson ([email protected]), a Professional Member of IFT, is Professor, Fiona Lancellotti ([email protected]), is Ph.D. Student, and Marlene Pinto ([email protected]) is Food Engineer and M.Sc. Student, Dept. of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, Valparaíso, Chile. Arthur Teixeira ([email protected]), a Professional Member of IFT and Fellow, is Professor, Dept. of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Florida, Gainesville.
Ayrilmis, N., Candan, Z. and Hiziroglu, S. 2008. Physical and mechanical properties of cardboard panels made from used beverage carton with veneer overlay. Materials & Design. 29(10): 1897-1903.
Baldwin, Ch. 2010. Principles of Food Products Life Cycle and Sustainability. Food Engineering Div. IFT, FED Newsletter, December - N. 17.
Bonduelle, J.B. 2009. The European fruit and vegetable processing sector: Key data, structure and main activities. Presentation to the Regional Workshop on Fruit and Vegetable Processing in the EU, September 23-24.
IUFoST, 2010. Life Cycle Analysis and Carbon Footprinting with respect to Sustainability in the Agri-food sector. Scientific Information Bulletin (SIB) International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST), April.
FPA (Flexible Packaging Association), 2009. Less Resources, Energy, Emissions, and Waste. www.flexpack.org Accessed December 2010.
Waterson, T. and N. Gillin, 2009. The Flexible Pouch: Future Directions. Presentation by Metalprint, Australia and Amcor Flexibles, Australasia, May.