The problem of interdependence of packaging and packaged product exemplified by industrial seafood packaging

Erik Svanes, Østfoldforskning

In close cooperation with packaging manufacturers, seafood industry and transport industry a common metodology for the calculation of environmental impact of Industrial Seafood packaging has been developed. The result is published as a product category rule (PCR) (The Norwegian EPD Foundation 2013) according to the requirements in the standards ISO 14025 and EN 15804. Industrial seafood packaging is most often plastic boxes containing 3-25 kg product, cooled with ice and used for bulk transport. The most commonly used material in Europe is expanded polystyrene (EPS).

The most difficult issue in the method development has been the interdependence between packaging and packaged product. The issue is manifested in two problems:

  1. How can the difference in ability to protect the product be reflected in the LCA of a packaging system?
  2. How can the impacts in the life cycle stages be divided between packaging and packaged product?

Regarding question 1: Packaging preserves the quality of seafood and as such it has a positive environmental impact because wastage is prevented. In the articles reviewed (e.g. Hansen et al 2011; Ecobilan and PwC 2012) in this study the wastage preventing effect of packaging has not been taken into account. This effect is difficult to quantify because a baseline situation is lacking. When comparing two packaging systems it could be possible to quantify this effect as observed difference in wastage and add the environmental impact of the extra wastage to the system causing more waste. One major problem with this approach is that downstream wastage is difficult to quantify because traceability is poor downstream of the processing plant.

In this project it was attempted to collect data that could be used as a basis for making a requirement. No such data was available or could be found.

Regarding question 2: In LCAs of packaged products it is common to include the entire impact of the packaging. Following this logic, and trying to avoid double counting it would seem reasonable to exclude the use stage when doing an LCA of a packaging system. In one other study (Ecobilan and PwC 2011) the use stage emissions where distributed between the packaging and packaged product. In this project a third approach was chosen: All use stage emissions were allocated to the packaging. The advantage of this approach is that the full effect of the packaging is visible. The disadvantage is that the use phase impacts. In an environmental product declaration developed according to this EPD, the results are displayed separately for each life cycle stage. This means that the impact of the use stage can be seen in separation from the other life cycle stages so that this disadvantage is less.