Unravelling the Green Packaging Dilemma : Packaging Development for Sustainable Food Supply Chains

Abstract: Green packaging development (GPD) involves the process of developing packaging with minimized environmental impact. Over the last decade, the GPD perspective has evolved from a traditionally packaging material-focused one to a holistic one. A holistic perspective on GPD means that the different environmental requirements on packaging have to be combined so that the overall environmental impact of packaging and product combinations is minimized. To apply a holistic perspective to food GPD, the food industry must consider that food packaging’s environmental impact is not just limited to the production and waste management of the packaging materials per se, but also influences the environmental impact of the entire food supply chain. Packaging influences, for example, the amount of food waste and the amount of energy used for food storage and transportation. This thesis explores the environmental efforts in current packaging development (PD) practice and increases the understanding of how to balance different environmental requirements during food PD.The research applies a mixed method approach consisting of five studies. To explore the gap between GPD theory and practice, it includes an interview study with nine companies in the Swedish food and manufacturing industries. The research relies on quantitative research methods in the form of a review of 48 food life cycle assessment (LCA) studies and a screening LCA study to increase the understanding of how to combine different environmental requirements in food PD to minimize the overall environmental impact of food packaging and product combinations. A second review of 32 food LCAs scrutinizes the food LCA methodology as to how the environmental impact of packaging is analysed. The remainder of the research consists of a collaboration project with a food industry partner that resulted in the development of an environmental evaluation tool for food packaging.Despite the fact that the interview study found that a combination of different environmental requirements were considered during PD, it identified a general preference for certain environmental requirements across all case companies. It can thus be concluded that in the case companies there is a gap between the theoretical concept of a holistic perspective on GPD and PD practices. A lack of internal and external integration in PD as well as marketing requirements on packaging were identified as general barriers to a holistic perspective on GPD. The results of the first LCA review and the screening LCA study show that the relative importance of different environmental requirements on packaging depends on the type of food product, the type of packaging and the conditions in the SC.The findings of this research shed more light on GPD practice in terms of to the combination of the environmental requirements considered and in terms of how internal and external integration efforts in PD practice relate to the application of a holistic GPD perspective. Moreover, the research suggests a practitioner-oriented approach to the application of a holistic GPD perspective in the form of prioritization guidelines for food GPD and a simplified environmental evaluation tool for food packaging. Lastly, the thesis contributes to the development of food LCA methodology to increase the validity of packaging-related results in food LCAs.

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