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Life cycle environmental impacts of carbonated soft drinks

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Purpose The UK carbonated drinks sector was worth £8 billion in 2010 and is growing at an annual rate of 4.9 %. In an attempt to provide a better understanding of the environmental impacts of this sector, this paper presents, for the first time, the full life cycle impacts of carbonated soft drinks manufactured and consumed in the UK. Two functional units are considered: 1 l of packaged drink and total annual production of carbonated drinks in the UK. The latter has been used to estimate the impacts at the sectoral level. The system boundary is from ‘cradle to grave’. Different packaging used for carbonated drinks is considered: glass bottles (0.75 l), aluminium cans (0.33 l) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles (0.5 and 2 l). Materials and methods The study has been carried out following the ISO 14040/44 life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. Data have been sourced from a drink manufacturer as well as the CCaLC, Ecoinvent and Gabi databases. The LCA software tools CCaLC v2.0 and GaBi 4.3 have been used for LCA modelling. The environmental impacts have been estimated according to the CML 2001 method. Results and discussion Packaging is the main hotspot for most environmental impacts, contributing between 59 and 77 %. The ingredients account between 7 and 14 % mainly due to sugar; the manufacturing stage contributes 5–10 %, largely due to the energy for filling and packaging. Refrigeration of the drink at retailer increases global warming potential by up to 33 %. Transport contributes up to 7 % to the total impacts. Conclusions The drink packaged in 2 l PET bottles is the most sustainable option for most impacts, including the carbon footprint, while the drink in glass bottles is the worst option. However, reusing glass bottles three times would make the carbon footprint of the drink in glass bottles comparable to that in aluminium cans and 0.5 l PET bottles. If recycling of PET bottles is increased to 60 %, the glass bottle would need to be reused 20 times to make their carbon footprints comparable. The estimates at the sectoral level indicate that the carbonated drinks in the UK are responsible for over 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 eq. emissions per year. This represented 13 % of the GHG emissions from the whole food and drink sector or 0.26 % of the UK total emissions in 2010.
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