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Life Cycle Assessment of Reusable Plastic Crates (RPCs)

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The European packaging market is forecast to grow 1.9% annually in the next years, with an increasing use of returnable packages. In this context, it is important to assess the real environmental effectiveness of the packaging re-use practice in terms of environmental impacts. This life cycle assessment aims to evaluate the environmental performances of reusable plastic crates (RPCs), which are used for the distribution of 36% of fruit and vegetables in Italy. RPCs can be re-used several times after a reconditioning process, i.e., inspection, washing, and sanitization with hot water and chemicals. The analysis was performed considering 12 impact categories, as well as the cumulative energy demand indicator and a tailor-made water consumption indicator. The results show that when the RPCs are used for less than 20 deliveries, the impacts of the life cycle are dominated by the manufacturing stage. By increasing the number of deliveries, the contribution of the reconditioning process increases, reaching 30–70% of the overall impacts for 125 uses. A minimum of three deliveries of the RPCs is required in order to perform better than an alternative system where crates of the same capacity (but 60% lighter) are single-use. The same modeling approach can be used to evaluate the environmental sustainability of other types of returnable packages, in order to have a complete overview for the Italian context and other European countries.
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Article
Life Cycle Assessment of Reusable Plastic
Crates (RPCs)
Camilla Tua, Laura Biganzoli, Mario Grosso and Lucia Rigamonti *
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Environmental Section, Politecnico di Milano,
20133 Milano, Italy; camilla.tua@polimi.it (C.T.); laura.biganzoli@polimi.it (L.B.); mario.grosso@polimi.it (M.G.)
*Correspondence: lucia.rigamonti@polimi.it; Tel.: +39-0223996415
Received: 21 April 2019; Accepted: 12 June 2019; Published: 15 June 2019


Abstract:
The European packaging market is forecast to grow 1.9% annually in the next years, with an
increasing use of returnable packages. In this context, it is important to assess the real environmental
eectiveness of the packaging re-use practice in terms of environmental impacts. This life cycle
assessment aims to evaluate the environmental performances of reusable plastic crates (RPCs), which
are used for the distribution of 36% of fruit and vegetables in Italy. RPCs can be re-used several
times after a reconditioning process, i.e., inspection, washing, and sanitization with hot water and
chemicals. The analysis was performed considering 12 impact categories, as well as the cumulative
energy demand indicator and a tailor-made water consumption indicator. The results show that
when the RPCs are used for less than 20 deliveries, the impacts of the life cycle are dominated by the
manufacturing stage. By increasing the number of deliveries, the contribution of the reconditioning
process increases, reaching 30–70% of the overall impacts for 125 uses. A minimum of three deliveries
of the RPCs is required in order to perform better than an alternative system where crates of the
same capacity (but 60% lighter) are single-use. The same modeling approach can be used to evaluate
the environmental sustainability of other types of returnable packages, in order to have a complete
overview for the Italian context and other European countries.
Keywords:
re-use; life cycle assessment (LCA); circular economy; reusable plastic crates (RPCs); fruit
and vegetables; packaging system
1. Introduction
The European packaging market accounted for EUR 195 billion turnover in the year 2018, and it is
forecast to reach EUR 214 billion in 2023, with a compound annual growth rate of 1.9% [
1
]. In the last
few years, there has been a growing demand for returnable packages from various end-use industries
in this sector such as food and beverages, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, and the automotive
industry [
2
]. In fact, the concept of circular economy is gaining momentum in the policy making of
the European Commission, and has been increasingly implemented in the production, consumption,
and waste sectors. A circular economy model promotes sustainability and competitiveness in the long
term by maintaining the value of products and materials as long as possible and minimizing the use
of resources and the generation of waste [
3
,
4
]. The re-use principle, that refers to the repeated use of
products and components for the same purpose for which they were conceived plays a central role
in the circular economy. In particular, in the packaging sector, re-use is a means to initiate a change,
which is expected to deliver both economic and environmental benefits [
5
]. Based on product type,
returnable packages can be categorized into: pallets, crates, intermediate bulk containers, drums and
barrels, bottles, dunnage, and other items (e.g., racks, sacks, carts and dollies). This paper focuses on
crates, considering their significant potential for re-use in the European context: around eight billion
crates of goods are transported from producers to the commodity stores all over Europe each year [
6
].
Resources 2019,8, 110; doi:10.3390/resources8020110 www.mdpi.com/journal/resources
Resources 2019,8, 110 2 of 15
Reusable plastic crates (RPCs) are designed for the transportation of fresh food products, especially
fruit and vegetables. This type of packaging is available in dierent sizes (typically 60 cm
×
40 cm or
30 cm
×
40 cm, with a height ranging from 12 cm to 25 cm; Table S1) and it is usually manufactured
from polypropylene (PP). The crate can be folded in order to provide a cheaper return when empty,
and has rounded inner edges to prevent product damage. RPCs are mainly managed based on rental
services: the ownership of the container is maintained by a service provider company (the pooler) that
delivers the RPCs to the users and manages their return, inspection, and cleaning for another re-use,
and their final treatment of recycling.
In Italy, RPCs are currently used to transport 36% of the overall distributed fruit and vegetables,
with a predominant use in the large-scale retail trade [
7
]. In the year 2017, the European Reusable
Packaging & Reverse Logistics Consortium (EURepack) rotated about 305 million RPCs, corresponding
to a population (i.e., the total number of items assumed as the available material in stock) of 44–51 million
crates (considering six to seven rotations per year).
Some studies have recently evaluated the environmental sustainability of the RPCs compared to
alternative single-use packages, aiming at finding the most environmentally friendly solution [
8
]. What
emerged is that despite packaging re-use being generally an eective measure of waste prevention,
when looking at the environmental impacts of the whole system, the picture looks much more complex,
and there is no unique answer. While some past studies (e.g., Singh et al. [
9
] and Franklin Associates [
10
]
for the North American context, or Albrecht et al. [
11
] and ADEME [
12
] for the European countries)
found that the RPCs perform generally better than the cardboard boxes and quite similarly to the
wooden boxes, other studies (e.g., Capuz et al. for Spain [
13
]) showed the opposite, i.e., that the
environmental impacts of the single-use cardboard boxes can be lower than those of the RPCs. This
is because the results of the comparison are strongly aected by dierent parameters, such as the
weight of the packages, the type of manufacturing material (e.g., primary versus secondary material),
the disposal treatment, the number of RPC fillings, and the involved transport distances [8,11,14,15].
As regards the service life of the RPCs, the existing literature mainly focuses on the transportation
step, showing that longer distances tend to favor single-use packages [
8
,
11
,
12
]. For example,
Levi et al. [8]
concluded that the RPCs system is generally preferable for distances lower than 1200 km,
while beyond the aforementioned value, the corrugated boxes system performs better. On the contrary,
few indications are reported about the inventory data and the corresponding environmental loads of
the reconditioning process at the facility.
The purpose of this study is to evaluate the environmental impacts associated with the life cycle
of the RPCs as a function of the number of provided deliveries in the Italian context. Compared to the
above-mentioned studies, especially Levi et al. [
8
] and Accorsi et al. [
15
] related to Italy, we paid special
attention to the reconditioning process, which was modeled based on primary data collected at the two
main poolers operating in the RPCs market in Italy. Results will be used to deliver some suggestions for
more sustainable management to the involved stakeholders. In more general terms, the present analysis
is part of a research activity focused on a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the packaging
re-use practice in Italy. In this research, 38 dierent types of reusable packages were identified, and for
each of them, the constituent material, the market, the sector of use, the main basic characteristics
(such as the average size and/or weight), the applied reconditioning process, and the type of service on
which it is run (e.g., rental) were analyzed [
16
]. For some typologies (i.e., intermediate bulk containers,
steel drums, and reusable plastic crates), a life cycle assessment (LCA) was also performed [
17
,
18
].
Such type of work represents a starting point to get reliable and representative data on packaging reuse
in Italy and could serve as an example for a similar assessment in other European member states.
2. Materials and Methods
The study was carried out applying the LCA methodology according to the ISO 14040 [
19
]
and 14044 [
20
] standards and the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) Guide [
21
]. The SimaPro
software (version 8.4, PR
é
Sustainability, Amersfoort, The Netherlands) supported the data processing.
Resources 2019,8, 110 3 of 15
According to such documents, the LCA is composed of four main stages: goal and scope definition
(Sections 2.12.6), inventory analysis (Section 2.7), impact assessment (Section 3), and interpretation
(Sections 3and 4).
2.1. Goal definition
The main objectives of the study are:
to assess the environmental and energy performances related to the life cycle of RPCs as a function
of the number of deliveries;
to identify the contribution of the reconditioning stage to the overall environmental indicators
and indicate methods for a more sustainable management of RPCs.
Another goal of the analysis is to understand whether the RPCs system based on the packaging
reconditioning and re-use performs better than an alternative system based on single-use plastic crates
(SPCs) of the same capacity. The comparison between the two delivery systems (including a description
of the SPCs system) is reported in Section 3.2.
2.2. RPCs System Description and Analyzed Scenarios
In the RPCs system, crates are manufactured through injection molding of PP granulate and, after
the use phase (not considered in the analysis), they are collected by the pooler and subjected to a
reconditioning process in order to be used for another delivery. Two prominent poolers of RPCs in
Italy were surveyed in order to define the layout and the mass balance of an average reconditioning
facility in Italy (see Figure S1 in the Supplementary Material).
Based on the collected information, crates are firstly inspected to identify possible breakages
(the average breakage rate is 0.35%). The damaged crates are removed and replaced by new crates to
keep the needed total capacity constant. The remaining 99.65% of the total RPCs are sent to a washing
step where, depending on the pooling company, only a percentage (about 55%) or the total amount of
crates is cleaned and sanitized with hot water and a mix of chemicals. After washing, crates are dried
and then further checked for breakages. On average, 0.2% of the washed crates are discarded at this
stage. The reconditioning process generates wastewater, which is sent to a chemical–physical treatment
plant located in the same facility, and some solid residues are removed from the RPCs (mainly organic
residues, plastic residues, and paper labels), which are then sent to incineration.
To consider differences in the reconditioning process, four scenarios based on collected primary data
were analyzed in the LCA study (Table 1), according to the combination of the following parameters:
the percentage of crates that are washed after the first inspection;
the type and amount of chemicals used in the washing step.
Table 1.
Definition of the four analyzed scenarios (W1-RE1; W1-RE2; W2-RE1; W2-RE2) for the
reusable plastic crates (RPCs) system. The scenarios were defined according to the current practice of
reconditioning in Italy.
Parameter Analyzed Scenarios
Percentage of crates
that are washed
W1: After the first inspection, all the crates
are washed. The breakage rate
1
of the overall
process (before and after washing) is 0.55%
W2: After the first inspection, only 55% of the
crates are washed, whereas the others are
considered in sucient hygienic conditions to
be re-used without being washed. The breakage
rate 1of the overall process is 0.46%
Chemicals used in the
washing step
RE1
commercial detergent based on soda
commercial disinfectant based on
peracetic acid
RE2
soda (30% aqueous solution)
sodium hypochlorite
(14% aqueous solution)
stabilizer based on citric acid
1
This is the average breakage rate established at the reconditioning facility, not including the rate of crates missed
during the use phase and not returned to the poolers. This second rate is almost negligible and then, since no
specific primary data were available, it was assumed equal to 0%.
Resources 2019,8, 110 4 of 15
After ndeliveries, the crates are transported to a recycling plant for the production of
secondary granulate.
2.3. Functional Unit
The function of the analyzed system is to provide a certain delivering capacity for the distribution
of fruit and vegetables by using plastic crates that carry 12 kg each. Then, the functional unit (FU)
is assumed as 1200 kg (corresponding to 100 RPCs) of carrying capacity at each delivery. The number of
deliveries (n) is included between 1–125. In the RPCs system, the FU is fulfilled by using 100 RPCs
with a capacity of 12 kg and an average empty weight of 1.49 kg. Since the same RPC is used for the n
deliveries, the parameter nalso indicates the “rotations”.
For nequal to 1, the newly manufactured crates are used only once, and then sent to recycling.
Thus, the reference flow is 100 newly manufactured crates. For nequal to 2, the newly manufactured
crates, after the first use, are sent to a reconditioning plant. Here, as described in Section 2.2, 0.55
(or 0.46) of the 100 input crates (depending on the washing percentage) cannot be reconditioned and
are sent to recycling, whereas the others are regenerated and made available for a second use. Thus,
the reference flow is 100.55–100.46 new crates (depending on the analyzed scenario). In general terms,
the reference flow is (100 +0.55 0.46(n1)) new crates, as can be inferred from Figure 1.
Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 16
Table 1. Definition of the four analyzed scenarios (W1-RE1; W1-RE2; W2-RE1; W2-RE2) for the
reusable plastic crates (RPCs) system. The scenarios were defined according to the current practice of
reconditioning in Italy.
Parameter Analyzed Scenarios
Percentage of
crates that are
washed
W1: After the first inspection, all the crates
are washed. The breakage rate
1
of the
overall process (before and after washing)
is 0.55%
W2: After the first inspection, only 55% of the crates
are washed, whereas the others are considered in
sufficient hygienic conditions to be re-used without
being washed. The breakage rate
1
of the overall
process is 0.46%
Chemicals
used in the
washing step
RE1
commercial detergent based on soda
commercial disinfectant based on
peracetic acid
RE2
soda (30% aqueous solution)
sodium hypochlorite (14% aqueous solution)
stabilizer based on citric acid
1
This is the average breakage rate established at the reconditioning facility, not including the rate of
crates missed during the use phase and not returned to the poolers. This second rate is almost
negligible and then, since no specific primary data were available, it was assumed equal to 0%.
2.3. Functional Unit
The function of the analyzed system is to provide a certain delivering capacity for the
distribution of fruit and vegetables by using plastic crates that carry 12 kg each. Then, the functional
unit (FU) is assumed as 1200 kg (corresponding to 100 RPCs) of carrying capacity at each delivery. The
number of deliveries (n) is included between 1–125. In the RPCs system, the FU is fulfilled by using
100 RPCs with a capacity of 12 kg and an average empty weight of 1.49 kg. Since the same RPC is
used for the n deliveries, the parameter n also indicates the “rotations”.
For n equal to 1, the newly manufactured crates are used only once, and then sent to recycling.
Thus, the reference flow is 100 newly manufactured crates. For n equal to 2, the newly manufactured
crates, after the first use, are sent to a reconditioning plant. Here, as described in Section 2.2, 0.55 (or
0.46) of the 100 input crates (depending on the washing percentage) cannot be reconditioned and are
sent to recycling, whereas the others are regenerated and made available for a second use. Thus, the
reference flow is 100.55–100.46 new crates (depending on the analyzed scenario). In general terms,
the reference flow is (100 + 0.55 0.46(n 1)) new crates, as can be inferred from Figure 1.
Figure 1. Simplified chart of the life cycle of 100 RPCs as the number of rotations changes.
Figure 1. Simplified chart of the life cycle of 100 RPCs as the number of rotations changes.
2.4. System Boundaries
The system boundaries (Figure 2) include:
the production of the crates (100 input crates plus those replacing the discarded ones during the
reconditioning process);
the reconditioning process, i.e., the transportation of the crates from the users to the reconditioning
plant, the consumption of electrical energy, water, fuel, and chemicals for the process (including
the transport of chemicals to the facility), the wastewater treatment, and the incineration of the
solid residues removed from the crates;
the end of life of the crates through a recycling process (both the crates after ndeliveries and those
discarded in the reconditioning process);
the transportation of the crates, the solid residues, and the sludge (from the wastewater treatment)
to their final treatment.
Resources 2019,8, 110 5 of 15
Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 16
2.4. System Boundaries
The system boundaries (Figure 2) include:
the production of the crates (100 input crates plus those replacing the discarded ones during the
reconditioning process);
the reconditioning process, i.e., the transportation of the crates from the users to the
reconditioning plant, the consumption of electrical energy, water, fuel, and chemicals for the
process (including the transport of chemicals to the facility), the wastewater treatment, and the
incineration of the solid residues removed from the crates;
the end of life of the crates through a recycling process (both the crates after n deliveries and
those discarded in the reconditioning process);
the transportation of the crates, the solid residues, and the sludge (from the wastewater
treatment) to their final treatment.
The use phase of RPCs—i.e., packing of the product and RPCs transportation to the distribution
centre of the large-scale retail and then to a retail outlet—was not considered. The life cycle of the
delivered product (growing and harvesting) was also not included, because the study focuses only
on the delivery packaging.
Cases of multi-functionality were solved by expanding the system boundaries [22,23]. The
following avoided productions were included:
avoided production of PP primary granulate due to the recycling of the RPCs after n deliveries;
avoided production of the electric energy from the Italian distribution grid due to the recovery
of electricity in the incineration processes (incineration of sludge, solid residues, and plastic
scraps from recycling);
avoided production of heat from a domestic gas boiler due to the recovery of heat in the
incineration processes.
Figure 2. System under study and related boundaries (steps in boxes with a dotted line are excluded
from the analysis).
2.5. Data Quality
Figure 2.
System under study and related boundaries (steps in boxes with a dotted line are excluded
from the analysis).
The use phase of RPCs—i.e., packing of the product and RPCs transportation to the distribution
centre of the large-scale retail and then to a retail outlet—was not considered. The life cycle of the
delivered product (growing and harvesting) was also not included, because the study focuses only on
the delivery packaging.
Cases of multi-functionality were solved by expanding the system boundaries [
22
,
23
]. The following
avoided productions were included:
avoided production of PP primary granulate due to the recycling of the RPCs after ndeliveries;
avoided production of the electric energy from the Italian distribution grid due to the recovery of
electricity in the incineration processes (incineration of sludge, solid residues, and plastic scraps
from recycling);
avoided production of heat from a domestic gas boiler due to the recovery of heat in the
incineration processes.
2.5. Data Quality
The geographical scope of the study is northern Italy, and the reference years are the biennium
2016–2017. The foreground system was described with primary data, except for the end of life of the
RPCs, for which literature data were taken as reference [11,24].
For the processes of the background system (such as chemicals and energy production), inventory
data from the ecoinvent 3.3 database (approach allocation and recycling content) were used [25].
2.6. Selected Indicators
The impact assessment was based on two characterisation methods:
International reference life cycle data system—ILCD [
26
], considering 12 impact categories: climate
change (CC), ozone depletion (OD), human toxicity (non-cancer eects; HT
NC
), human toxicity
(cancer eects; HT
C
), particulate matter (PM), photochemical ozone formation (POF), acidification
(A), terrestrial eutrophication (TE), freshwater eutrophication (FE), marine eutrophication (ME),
freshwater ecotoxicity (FEC), and mineral, fossil, and renewable resources depletion (RD).
Resources 2019,8, 110 6 of 15
Cumulative energy demand—CED [27], to evaluate the energy performance of the system.
Moreover, an ad hoc indicator, which was defined as water resources depletion (WD) and
expressed in terms of m
3
of water, was used to quantify the net water consumption along the life cycle
of the system (water withdrawal from the environment minus the water release in the environment).
The value of this indicator was derived from the inventory of the system reported in the results
of the SimaPro software. The environmental impact associated to this water consumption was not
calculated, because the impact category recommended in the ILCD method has still some problems of
implementation, and thus was not considered as completely reliable.
2.7. Inventory
This section reports the primary data used to model the main processes included in the
system boundaries. In the Supplementary Material, the corresponding ecoinvent datasets are listed
(Tables S2–S6).
2.7.1. RPCs Production
The RPCs have an average weight of 1.49 kg and an average capacity of 12 kg, which was
calculated based on the data reported in Table S1. Crates are currently manufactured by the injection
molding of PP granulate with an eciency of 99.4% [
25
]. The 100 input RPCs are supposed to be
produced only from virgin granules, while the RCPs replacing the losses at every reconditioning
step are supposed to be manufactured from 39% virgin granulate (0.58 kg/crate) and 61% secondary
granulate (0.91 kg/crate), i.e., granulate that comes directly from the recycling process of the damaged
crates (closed-loop recycling). The percentage of the secondary granulate was calculated considering a
93% recycling eciency and a substitution factor by mass between the secondary and the primary
material equal to 1:0.66 (Figure 3; see Section 2.7.3 for further details). Note that from now on, the step
of the crates production includes the burdens related to the primary granulate manufacturing and
the injection molding process. The environmental loads related to the production of the secondary
granulate (recycling process of RPCs) are instead included in the end of life stage.
Figure 3. Layout and mass balance of the production process of the RPCs. (A) Case of 100 new RPCs;
(B) Case of RPCs replacing the losses of each reconditioning process.
2.7.2. Reconditioning Process
The average distance between the users and the reconditioning plant in Italy is equal to 139 km.
Transportation is made by large-size trucks (>32 metric tonnes), complying with the Euro 5 standard.
The complete inventory of the reconditioning process based on collected primary data is reported
in Table 2for each analyzed scenario.
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Table 2.
Inventory of the reconditioning step based on collected primary data. Data refer to 100 crates
entering the reconditioning facility.
Input Scenario
W1-RE1 W1-RE2 W2-RE1 W2-RE2
Water for washing 0.055 m30.030 m3
Heating of water
(gas conventional boiler) 32.2 MJ 17.7 MJ
Electric energy 2.48 kWh 1.37 kWh
Disinfectant RE1 (16% acetic acid,
15% peracetic acid, 23% hydrogen
peroxide, 1% stabilizer,
45% deionized water)
0.099 kg - 0.054 kg -
Disinfectant RE2 (sodium
hypochlorite, 14% solution) - 0.043 kg - 0.024 kg
Detergent RE1 (40% soda, 0.6%
alkyl alcohol alkoxylate,
59.4% deionized water)
0.523 kg - 0.288 kg -
Detergent RE2 (soda, 30% solution) - 0.179 kg - 0.099 kg
Stabiliser (10% citric acid, 5% lactic
acid, 0.25% potassium iodate,
84.75% deionized water)
- 0.011 kg - 0.006 kg
Transport for the supply of
chemicals (light commercial vehicle)
0.62 kg transported
for 100 km
0.23 kg transported
for 100 km
0.34 kg transported
for 100 km
0.13 kg transported
for 100 km
Solid residues removed from crates
(sent to incineration for municipal
waste—100 km distance)
46 g 199 g
Wastewater (sent to a
physical–chemical pre-treatment
and then to a wastewater
treatment plant)
0.055 m30.030 m3
The generated wastewater is treated in a physical–chemical treatment plant (located within the
same reconditioning facility). In particular, the treatment of 1 m
3
of wastewater requires 0.54 kg
of polyaluminum chloride (10% aqueous solution), 0.65 kg of sulfuric acid (50% aqueous solution),
and 2.7 kWh of electricity. The process produces 1 m
3
of water, which is sent to a medium-size urban
wastewater treatment plant and 1.67 kg of sludge, which is destined to a municipal waste incinerator
(100-km distance).
2.7.3. End of Life
The RPCs used for ndeliveries and the damaged crates at each reconditioning step are transported
to a recycling facility (100-km distance on average). The crates are received separately from the other
plastic streams, and so the initial sorting process is not implemented. In the recycling process, crates are
shredded and ground for the production of secondary granulate, with an average eciency of 93% [
11
].
The secondary granulate can be used in the manufacturing of new RPC
S
(closed-loop recycling applied
to the discarded crates at each reconditioning step) or for other applications such as the production of
crates for returnable glass bottles (open-loop recycling applied to the RPC
S
at their end of life after n
deliveries). In both cases, according to the approach followed by Albrecht et al. [
11
], a substitution
ratio between the secondary and primary granulate equal to 1:0.66 by mass was assumed, based on
the market prices in Italy for the year 2017 [28]. In the sensitivity analysis, a parameter variation was
performed (Section 3.3.3), in order to analyze its influence on the final results.
According to the inventory data reported in Rigamonti et al. [
24
] for the recycling of the polyolefins,
the treatment of one crate requires 0.7 kWh of electric energy, 2.47 kg of well water, and 0.90 MJ of heat
produced by a conventional gas boiler. Scraps produced by the treatment (100 g/crate) are sent to a
municipal waste incinerator located 100 km away from the recycling plant.
Resources 2019,8, 110 8 of 15
3. Results
Tables S7–S10 in the Supplementary Material report the results of the LCA for each analyzed
scenario. They refer to the life cycle of 100 RPCs that provide 1200 kg of carrying capacity at each
delivery, with nrepresenting the number of deliveries made with the same crates (rotations). The overall
impact includes the burdens of:
the production step of (100 +0.55
×
(n
1)) crates in case of the scenarios W1 and (100 +0.46
×
(n1)) crates for the scenarios W2;
the reconditioning process of 100
×
(n
1) crates. This step includes the transportation of the
crates from the users to the reconditioning plant, the washing step (consumption of electric energy,
chemicals, and hot water), the wastewater treatment, and the incineration of the solid residues
removed by the crates;
the end of life of [100 +0.55
×
(n
1)] crates in case of the scenarios W1 and of (100 +0.46
×
(n1)) crates for the scenarios W2.
3.1. Impact assessment
Scenario W1-RE1 (washing percentage equal to 100% and reagents of type RE1) shows the highest
potential impacts, while scenario W2-RE2 (washing percentage equal to 55% and reagents of type RE2)
performed the best. In particular, the impacts turn out to be mostly influenced by the percentage of
washing (scenario W1 versus scenario W2). For example, for n=125, most of the indicators increase by
more than 14% when all of the crates are washed. The type and quantity of washing chemicals are
less important in comparison: for 125 deliveries, the dierence between the indicators of scenario RE1
and those of scenario RE2 is always lower than 13.5%, regardless of the percentage of washed crates
(see Table S11).
In each scenario, the value of the indicators can be divided into three main stages: production,
reconditioning (only for n>1), and end of life (see Table S12 for scenario W1-RE1). Similar indications
can be derived for all the analyzed scenarios. For a low number of rotations (e.g., n=20), the burdens
are mainly associated to the production stage (52–85% of the overall indicator for scenario W1-RE1).
By increasing the number of rotations, one can observe a larger contribution of the reconditioning
stage. Considering for example the scenario W1-RE1, this process contributes to 15–55% for n=40,
21–63% for n=60, 25–68% for n=80, and 29–71% for n=100 deliveries (Figure 4).
Focusing on the reconditioning stage, when the washing percentage is equal to 100%, most of the
environmental burdens are associated with:
the transportation of the crates from the users to the reconditioning plant (this is valid especially
for the impact categories particulate matter,photochemical ozone formation,terrestrial and marine
eutrophication, and resource depletion);
the electricity consumption of the reconditioning plant in case of freshwater eutrophication and
ecotoxicity impact categories;
the washing stage, especially for the climate change and ozone depletion impact categories and the
CED and water depletion indicators. In this stage, the most impacting processes are the heating of
the water, the consumption of the disinfectant based on peracetic acid (only for the scenario RE1),
and the consumption of water.
A non-negligible contribution is also given by the wastewater treatment for the human toxicity,
non-cancer eects,marine eutrophication, and the water depletion (Figure 5and Tables S13 and S14).
If only 55% of crates are washed, most of the impact is due to the transportation of the crates in all
the analyzed indicators except for freshwater eutrophication,freshwater ecotoxicity, and water depletion,
where the consumption of electricity (FE category), the management of solid residues (FEC category),
and the consumption of water (WD indicator) represent the most important contributions (Figure 5
and Table S15).
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the reconditioning process of 100 × (n 1) crates. This step includes the transportation of the
crates from the users to the reconditioning plant, the washing step (consumption of electric
energy, chemicals, and hot water), the wastewater treatment, and the incineration of the solid
residues removed by the crates;
the end of life of [100 + 0.55 × (n 1)] crates in case of the scenarios W1 and of (100 + 0.46 × (n
1)) crates for the scenarios W2.
3.1. Impact assessment
Scenario W1-RE1 (washing percentage equal to 100% and reagents of type RE1) shows the
highest potential impacts, while scenario W2-RE2 (washing percentage equal to 55% and reagents of
type RE2) performed the best. In particular, the impacts turn out to be mostly influenced by the
percentage of washing (scenario W1 versus scenario W2). For example, for n = 125, most of the
indicators increase by more than 14% when all of the crates are washed. The type and quantity of
washing chemicals are less important in comparison: for 125 deliveries, the difference between the
indicators of scenario RE1 and those of scenario RE2 is always lower than 13.5%, regardless of the
percentage of washed crates (see Table S11).
In each scenario, the value of the indicators can be divided into three main stages: production,
reconditioning (only for n > 1), and end of life (see Table S12 for scenario W1-RE1). Similar
indications can be derived for all the analyzed scenarios. For a low number of rotations (e.g., n = 20),
the burdens are mainly associated to the production stage (52–85% of the overall indicator for
scenario W1-RE1). By increasing the number of rotations, one can observe a larger contribution of
the reconditioning stage. Considering for example the scenario W1-RE1, this process contributes to
15–55% for n = 40, 21–63% for n = 60 , 25–68% for n = 80, and 29–71% for n = 100 deliveries (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Percentage contribution of the life cycle stages “production”, “end of life”, and
“reconditioning” to the total value of all the indicators for 20 and 125 rotations of the RPC
S
. Results
refer to the scenario W1-RE1. In order to better see the contribution of the reconditioning stage in
response to the rotations, a focus on the ‘Ozone Depletion’ category (the category with the highest
Figure 4.
Percentage contribution of the life cycle stages “production”, “end of life”, and “reconditioning”
to the total value of all the indicators for 20 and 125 rotations of the RPC
S
. Results refer to the scenario
W1-RE1. In order to better see the contribution of the reconditioning stage in response to the rotations, a
focus on the ‘Ozone Depletion’ category (the category with the highest contribution of the reconditioning
stage) and CED (the indicator with the lowest contribution of the reconditioning stage) is reported.
Legend: CC: climate change; OD: ozone depletion; HT,NC: human toxicity, non-cancer eects; HT,C:
human toxicity, cancer eects; PM: particulate matter; POF: photochemical ozone formation; A:
acidification; TE: terrestrial eutrophication; FE: freshwater eutrophication; ME: marine eutrophication;
FEC: freshwater ecotoxicity; RD: mineral, fossil and renewable resources depletion; CED: cumulative
energy demand; WD: water resources depletion.
Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 16
contribution of the reconditioning stage) and CED (the indicator with the lowest contribution of the
reconditioning stage) is reported. Legend: CC: climate change; OD: ozone depletion; HT,NC: human
toxicity, non-cancer effects; HT,C: human toxicity, cancer effects; PM: particulate matter; POF:
photochemical ozone formation; A: acidification; TE: terrestrial eutrophication; FE: freshwater
eutrophication; ME: marine eutrophication; FEC: freshwater ecotoxicity; RD: mineral, fossil and
renewable resources depletion; CED: cumulative energy demand; WD: water resources depletion.
Focusing on the reconditioning stage, when the washing percentage is equal to 100%, most of
the environmental burdens are associated with:
the transportation of the crates from the users to the reconditioning plant (this is valid
especially for the impact categories particulate matter, photochemical ozone formation, terrestrial and
marine eutrophication, and resource depletion);
the electricity consumption of the reconditioning plant in case of freshwater eutrophication and
ecotoxicity impact categories;
the washing stage, especially for the climate change and ozone depletion impact categories and the
CED and water depletion indicators. In this stage, the most impacting processes are the heating of
the water, the consumption of the disinfectant based on peracetic acid (only for the scenario
RE1), and the consumption of water.
A non-negligible contribution is also given by the wastewater treatment for the human toxicity,
non-cancer effects, marine eutrophication, and the water depletion (Figure 5 and Tables S13 and S14).
If only 55% of crates are washed, most of the impact is due to the transportation of the crates in
all the analyzed indicators except for freshwater eutrophication, freshwater ecotoxicity, and water
depletion, where the consumption of electricity (FE category), the management of solid residues (FEC
category), and the consumption of water (WD indicator) represent the most important contributions
(Figure 5 and Table S15).
Based on these outcomes, a widespread distribution of the reconditioning plants should be
encouraged in order to reduce the traveled average distance from the users to the cleaning facility.
Moreover, the management of the reconditioning facility could be optimized by reducing energy
consumptions and by promoting the use of alternative/renewable energy sources (see sections 3.3.1
and 3.3.2 related to the sensitivity analysis). The consumption of a disinfectant alternative to the
commercial reagent based on peracetic acid should also be encouraged.
Figure 5. Contribution analysis of the reconditioning process for the four analyzed scenarios to the
impact categories ozone depletion, terrestrial eutrophication, and freshwater ecotoxicity.
Figure 5.
Contribution analysis of the reconditioning process for the four analyzed scenarios to the
impact categories ozone depletion,terrestrial eutrophication, and freshwater ecotoxicity.
Resources 2019,8, 110 10 of 15
Based on these outcomes, a widespread distribution of the reconditioning plants should be
encouraged in order to reduce the traveled average distance from the users to the cleaning facility.
Moreover, the management of the reconditioning facility could be optimized by reducing energy
consumptions and by promoting the use of alternative/renewable energy sources (see Sections 3.3.1
and 3.3.2 related to the sensitivity analysis). The consumption of a disinfectant alternative to the
commercial reagent based on peracetic acid should also be encouraged.
3.2. Reconditioning System (RPCs) vs. Single-Use System (SPCs)
In this section, the RPCs system is compared to an alternative system for fruit and vegetables
distribution based on single-use plastic crates of the same capacity (SPCs system), which are sent to
recycling and substituted with new ones at each delivery. In this case, the reference flow that fulfills
the FU defined in Section 2.3 is 100 ×n×SPCs.
SPCs have the same capacity of RPCs (12 kg), but an average empty weight of 579 g, i.e., 60% lower
(Table S16). The life cycle of SPCs (stages of production and end of life) was modeled as previously
described for the 100 input RPCs (Section 2.7), and the LCA results are reported in Table S17.
Regardless of the analyzed re-use scenario, the SPCs system performs significantly better just
until two deliveries of the RPCs. On average, the burdens of the RPCs system are 2.6 (n=1) and 1.3
(n=2) times higher than those related to the SPCs system. Starting from three deliveries, the results
rapidly change in favor of the RPCs system, i.e., the reconditioning and re-use of crates is preferable
than the single-use and recycling, for all of the analyzed indicators. Considering for example the
scenario W1-RE1, depending on the indicators, the environmental impacts and the water consumption
of the RPCs system range from 54% to 60% of those of the SPCs system if n=5, from 35% to 42% for
n=8, from 16% to 23% for n=20, from 12% to 19% for n=30, from 7% to 14% for n=80, and from 6%
to 13% for n=125 (Figure 6and Figures S2 and S3).
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3.2. Reconditioning System (RPCs) vs. Single-Use System (SPCs)
In this section, the RPCs system is compared to an alternative system for fruit and vegetables
distribution based on single-use plastic crates of the same capacity (SPCs system), which are sent to
recycling and substituted with new ones at each delivery. In this case, the reference flow that fulfills
the FU defined in Section 2.3 is 100 × n × SPCs.
SPCs have the same capacity of RPCs (12 kg), but an average empty weight of 579 g, i.e., 60%
lower (Table S16). The life cycle of SPCs (stages of production and end of life) was modeled as
previously described for the 100 input RPCs (Section 2.7), and the LCA results are reported in Table
S17.
Regardless of the analyzed re-use scenario, the SPCs system performs significantly better just
until two deliveries of the RPCs. On average, the burdens of the RPCs system are 2.6 (n = 1) and 1.3
(n = 2) times higher than those related to the SPCs system. Starting from three deliveries, the results
rapidly change in favor of the RPCs system, i.e. the reconditioning and re-use of crates is preferable
than the single-use and recycling, for all of the analyzed indicators. Considering for example the
scenario W1-RE1, depending on the indicators, the environmental impacts and the water
consumption of the RPCs system range from 54% to 60% of those of the SPCs system if n = 5, from
35% to 42% for n = 8, from 16% to 23% for n = 20, from 12% to 19% for n = 30, from 7% to 14% for n =
80, and from 6% to 13% for n = 125 (Figure 6 and Figures S2 and S3).
Figure 6. Comparison between the system based on reconditioning and re-use (RPCs system) and the
single-use plastic crates (SPCs system): for each number of rotations, the ratio between the value of
the indicator climate change in the RPCs and SPCs systems is reported. The other indicators are
reported in Figures S2–S3 of the Supplementary Material.
3.3. Sensitivity Analysis
Figure 6.
Comparison between the system based on reconditioning and re-use (RPCs system) and the
single-use plastic crates (SPCs system): for each number of rotations, the ratio between the value of the
indicator climate change in the RPCs and SPCs systems is reported. The other indicators are reported in
Figures S2 and S3 of the Supplementary Material.
Resources 2019,8, 110 11 of 15
3.3. Sensitivity Analysis
A sensitivity analysis was performed by changing some of the assumptions adopted in modeling
the RPCs life cycle. Assumptions are related to the following aspects:
the production of the electricity used in the reconditioning plant;
the production of the heat used in the reconditioning plant;
the substitution ratio between secondary and virgin PP granulate.
The sensitivity analysis was performed on the best (W2-RE2) and the worst (W1-RE1) RPCs scenarios.
3.3.1. Production of the Electricity Used in the Reconditioning Plant
The contribution of the consumption of electricity from the Italian mix resulted up to 50% of the
reconditioning burdens in the scenario W1-RE1 (Table S13) and up to 42% in the scenario W2-RE2.
Thus, in the sensitivity analysis, the electricity was assumed to be produced in an alternative way, i.e.,
by a solar photovoltaic system (inventory data from the ecoinvent 3.3 dataset: Electricity, low voltage
{IT}|electricity production, photovoltaic, 3 kWp slanted-roof installation, multi-Si, panel, mounted).
Compared to the baseline situation, the use of renewable energy allows for a reduction of the
reconditioning burdens by up to 25% in the scenario W1-RE1 and up to 29% in the scenario W2-RE2,
for all the indicators, except for the resource depletion impact category, where an increase of the impact is
shown due to the environmental load of the panels production (Table S18). By considering the whole
RPCs life cycle, the sensitivity scenario performs slightly better than the baseline scenario (Table S19),
but the comparison with the single-use system does not change in general terms.
3.3.2. Production of Heat Used in the Reconditioning Plant
The contribution of the production of heat from a conventional gas boiler resulted up to 35% of the
reconditioning burdens in the scenario W1-RE1 (Tables S13 and S14), and 29% in the scenario W2-RE2.
For this reason, a sensitivity analysis was performed by assuming that heat is produced with a natural
gas combined heat and power (CHP) boiler that also provides electricity for the process. The remaining
amount of electricity is taken from the national grid. Detailed modeling is reported in Table S20.
Compared to the baseline situation, the production of heat from a CHP boiler allows for a reduction
of the reconditioning burdens by up to 30% (scenario W1-RE1) and 32% (scenario W2-RE2) for all the
indicators, except for the impact categories photochemical ozone formation,acidification, and terrestrial
eutrophication, which show a slight increase of the impact (less than 2%, Table S21). Also, in this case,
the overall results of the LCA are not aected.
3.3.3. Substitution Ratio between Secondary and Virgin Polypropylene Granulate
In the baseline LCA, a substitution ratio between secondary and primary PP granulate equal to
1:0.66 by mass was assumed, based on the current market prices of the two materials in Italy. In the
sensitivity analysis, a substitution ratio equal to 1:1 was applied, assuming that the physical and
technical properties of the secondary granulate are the same as those of the primary product, and that
during the recycling process, it is not necessary to add virgin material to meet the minimum technical
specifications. This change in the parameter was applied to both the RPCs and the SPCs systems.
The burdens associated to the overall life cycle of the RPCs and SPCs decrease (Tables S23 and S24),
but the LCA comparison between the two systems does not change.
4. Discussion and Conclusions
The study has evaluated, according to a life cycle perspective, the environmental and energy
performances of RPCs for the distribution of fruit and vegetables in Italy, as a function of the number
of provided deliveries (1
n
125). Specific attention was dedicated to the reconditioning process, for
which primary data were collected at the two main poolers.
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The main burdens of the reconditioning process are associated with the transportation of the crates
from the users to the plant, and for this reason, a more widespread distribution of the facilities should
be promoted to reduce the distance traveled. This is in line with the indications of the previously
mentioned studies (e.g., [
8
,
11
,
14
,
15
]), showing that a longer distance tends to favor a single-use
packaging system, where the backhaul and washing is not necessary.
Other significant sources of environmental impact in the reconditioning stage are the consumption
of electricity from the national grid—and, when 100% of the RPCs are washed, the washing step,
i.e., the heating of the water by a conventional gas boiler and the consumption of the water itself.
In this case, as recommended also by Albrecht et al. [
11
], the management of the reconditioning facility
should be optimized by reducing energy consumptions and promoting the use of renewable energy
sources. For example, based on the performed sensitivity analysis, the use of photovoltaic energy or the
cogeneration of heat and electricity in a CHP gas unit would reduce the burdens of the reconditioning
process by up to 25–30% compared to the baseline situation.
The chemicals used for the washing process do not aect significantly the overall results, but the
use of peracetic acid as disinfectant is not recommended.
As it was expected, the reconditioning step becomes more relevant within the RPCs system impacts
when the number of crate rotations increases (up to 75% of the overall indicators for 125 rotations),
especially when all the crates are washed.
The re-use system was also compared with an alternative system of fruit and vegetables distribution,
where single-use plastic crates of the same capacity (but 60% lighter) are sent to recycling and substituted
with new ones (SPCs system). Starting from three deliveries, the RPCs system results are preferable to
the SPCs system for all the analyzed indicators. Considering the worst performing scenario of re-use,
depending on the indicators, its environmental impacts and the water consumption are 54–60% of
those of a SPCs system for five deliveries, 16–23% for 20 deliveries, 7–14% for 80 deliveries, and 6–13%
for 125 deliveries.
The performed LCA allowed identifying the main critical points and consequently the possible
improvements in the RPCs life cycle, especially in the management of their washing and sanitation.
If our indications will be taken into account by the pooling societies, it is expected to have a significant
improvement in the RPCs environmental sustainability. This can have positive consequences in Italy,
where the RPCs are the dominant type of packaging for the delivery of fruit and vegetables in the
large-scale retail trade.
As previously reported, the reconditioning process was modeled on the basis of primary data
collected from two pooling societies, which have a strong business in Europe and account for a large
RPCs market share in Italy. This represents the main strength of the study. In fact, compared with
previous LCAs on the topic [
8
,
15
], where the reconditioning process was modeled based on literature
data, in our study, we used recent and representative primary data. Instead, the main gap is related
to the use stage of the RPCs (i.e., use of the packaging for the delivery of fruit and vegetables from
the growers to the distribution centres and then to the local retail stores), which was not included
within the system boundaries. Thus, a future development of the study could be focused on the logistic
aspects of this service phase, with the collection of primary data regarding the transportation modes
and mean traveled distances.
This study is part of a wider research activity related to an environmental assessment of the
re-use practice in Italy. For this reason, new LCAs on other reusable packages identified in the initial
survey [16] will be implemented by applying the same modeling approach.
Supplementary Materials:
The file containing the Supplementary Material is available online at http://www.
mdpi.com/2079-9276/8/2/110/s1. Figure S1: Layout and mass balance of an average reconditioning plant in Italy
for 100 input crates. W1 =washing percentage of 100%; W2 =washing percentage of 55%; RE1 =chemicals of
type RE1; RE2 =chemicals of type RE2; Figure S2: Comparison between the system based on reconditioning and
re-use (RPCs system) and the single-use system (SPCs system): for each number of rotations, the ratio between the
value of the indicator in the RPCs and SPCs systems is reported. The figure is related to the scenario W1-RE1;
Figure S3: Comparison between the system based on reconditioning and re-use (RPCs system) and the single use
Resources 2019,8, 110 13 of 15
system (SPCs system): for each number of rotations, the ratio between the value of the indicator in the RPCs and
SPCs systems is reported. The figure is related to the scenario W2-RE2; Table S1: RPCs characteristics for the two
surveyed societies; Table S2: Ecoinvent datasets (version 3.3) implemented in SimaPro 8.4 to model the production
of crates (re-use system and single use system); Table S3: Ecoinvent datasets (version 3.3) implemented in SimaPro
8.4 to model the reconditioning process; Table S4: Ecoinvent datasets (version 3.3) implemented in SimaPro 8.4 to
model the treatment of the wastewater produced by the reconditioning process; Table S5: Air emission factors
for the production of heat from a gas domestic boiler. Values are expressed per GJ of consumed natural gas;
Table S6: Ecoinvent datasets (version 3.3) implemented in SimaPro 8.4 to model the end of life process (re-use
system and single-use system); Table S7: Impact indicators and water resources consumption associated with the
life cycle of the 100 RPCs ready for nth use (1
n
125) for the scenario W1-RE1 (washing percentage equal to
100% and chemicals of type RE1); Table S8: Impact indicators and water resources consumption associated with
the life cycle of the 100 RPCs ready for nth use (1
n
125) for the scenario W1-RE2 (washing percentage equal to
100% and chemicals of type RE2); Table S9: Impact indicators and water resources consumption associated with
the life cycle of the 100 RPCs ready for nth use (1
n
125) for the scenario W2-RE1 (washing percentage equal
to 55% and chemicals of type RE1); Table S10: Impact indicators and water resources consumption associated
with the life cycle of the 100 RPCs ready for nth use (1
n
125) for the scenario W2-RE2 (washing percentage
equal to 55% and chemicals of type RE2); Table S11: Percent change of the impacts and water consumption
associated with the RPCs life cycle, according to the dierent ways of management for the reconditioning step.
Considering for example the first column (coloured), the percentage change is calculated as:
%=[IMPACT
SC. W1
IMPACT
SC. W2
]/IMPACT
SC. W2
, keeping constant the type of used reagents (RE1). The impact changes
are reported for 20, 50, 80, and 125 rotations; Table S12: Impact indicators and water resources consumption
associated with the life cycle stages “production”, “reconditioning”, and “end of life” of the 100 RPCs for 20
and 125 uses in the scenario W1-RE1: absolute and relative values. For each number of uses, the stage with the
highest contribution to the overall indicator is highlighted; Table S13: Impact indicators and water resources
consumption associated with the reconditioning process of the 100 RPCs in the scenario W1-RE1 (washing
percentage equal to 100% and chemicals of type RE1): total value and contribution analysis. For each indicator,
the stage with the highest contribution is highlighted; Table S14: Impact indicators and water resources associated
to the washing step of the 100 RPCs in the scenario W1-RE1: Total value and contribution analysis. For each
indicator, the stage with the highest contribution is highlighted; Table S15: Impact indicators and water resources
associated to the reconditioning process of the 100 RPCs in the scenario W2-RE1 (washing percentage equal to
55% and chemicals of type RE1): Total value and contribution analysis. For each indicator, the stage with the
highest contribution is highlighted; Table S16: Characteristics of the single use plastic crates. The market share
is assumed the same provided for the RCPs; Table S17: Impact indicators and water resources consumption
associated with the life cycle of 100 single-use plastic crates and the corresponding contribution analysis; Table S18:
Impact indicators and water resources consumption for the reconditioning process in the scenario W1-RE1 and
W2-RE2: comparison between the use of electricity from the Italian grid and by a photovoltaic system. The percent
change is calculated as:
%=[IMPACT
PHOTOVOLTAIC
IMPACT
GRID
]/IMPACT
GRID
. Table S19: Percent change
of the impacts and water resources consumption associated with the whole RPCs life cycle, according to the
dierent source of electricity for the reconditioning stage. Considering for example the first column, the percent
change is calculated as:
%=[IMPACT
PHOTOVOLTAIC
IMPACT
GRID
]/IMPACT
GRID
, keeping constant the
type of scenario (W1-RE1) and the number of uses (n=20). The impact changes are reported for 20, 50, 80,
and 125 rotations; Table S20: Stage of reconditioning - modeling of the energy consumption (electricity and heat
production) by a gas heat and power combined boiler (inventory data and selected Ecoinvent datasets); Table S21:
Impact indicators and water resources consumption for the reconditioning stage in the scenarios W1-RE1 and
W2-RE2: comparison between the use of conventional and CHP boiler. The percent change of the indicator is
calculated as:
%=[IMPACT
CHP
IMPACT
CONVENTIONAL
]/IMPACT
CONVENTIONAL
; Table S22: Percent change
of the impacts and water consumption associated with the whole RPCs life cycle, according to the dierent sources
of heat production for the reconditioning step. Considering for example the first column, the percent change is
calculated as:
%=[IMPACT
CHP BOILER
IMPACT
CONV. BOILER
]/IMPACT
CONV. BOILER
, keeping constant the
type of scenario (W1-RE1) and the number of uses (n=20). The impact changes are reported for 20, 50, 80,
and 125 rotations; Table S23: Percent change of the impacts and water consumption associated with the whole
RPCs life cycle, according to the dierent values of the substitution ratio between secondary and primary PP
granulate. Considering for example the first column, the percent change is calculated as:
%=[IMPACT
ratio 1:1
IMPACT
ratio 1:0.66
]/IMPACT
ratio 1:0.66
, keeping constant the type of scenario (W1-RE1) and the number of uses
(n=20). The impact changes are reported for 20, 50, 80, and 125 rotations; Table S24: Impact indicators and water
resources consumption associated with the life cycle of 100 single use plastic crates when the substitution ratio
between the secondary and primary granulate is 1:1 by mass. The percent change is calculated as:
%=[IMPACT
ratio 1:1 IMPACT ratio 1:0.66]/MPACT ratio 1:0.66.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization and methodology, L.B. and L.R.; data curation, L.B.; LCA formal analysis
and results investigation, L.B., L.R., and C.T.; writing—original draft preparation, C.T. and L.B.; writing—review
and editing, L.R. and M.G.; supervision, L.R. and M.G.; project administration, L.R. and M.G.
Funding: The research was supported by the National Packaging Consortium (Conai).
Acknowledgments:
The authors wish to thank the operators of the RPC
S
reconditioning facilities who provided
primary data for the LCA study and the EURepak Consortium that provides the contacts of the Italian poolers.
Resources 2019,8, 110 14 of 15
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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... For modeling potential environmental impacts, a recent LCA study in the EU on plastic crates (Tua et al., 2019) is used as reference for the steps involved. Post-consumer plastic crates are washed and dried with specified inputs to the process (i.e. ...
... Table 26 gives an overview of all sensitivity analyses performed for this study. (Tua et al., 2019), (Abejón et al., 2020b) 47 Source: (Thorbecke et al., 2019), (Lo-Iacono-ferreira et al., 2021) 48 Arbitrary assumption 49 This scenario is presented to highlight symmetry between the two systems. 50 For this scenario, secondary dataset, i.e., RER: treatment of waste paper to pulp, wet lap, totally chlorine free bleached (ecoinvent 3.7.1) ...
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Ramboll has been appointed by the European Federation of corrugated Board Manufacturers (FEFCO or the Client) as technical consultant for conducting a peer reviewed comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study for B2B transport packaging solutions for the food segment—a recyclable corrugated solution and a reusable plastic crate—in accordance with ISO standards 14040 and 14044. This is conducted as a basis for discussion with authority representatives on the current legal developments within the European Union regarding circular economy and waste prevention.
... Three of these were decision making models with the application of LCA, Material Flow Analysis (MFA) and more generally models to improve the reuse of plastics prior to them either becoming waste or entering the recycling stream. The scenarios evaluated were reusable beverage cups (Šuškevičė and Kruopienė, 2020), plastic crates (Tua et al., 2019), and reuse of plastics in urban spaces (Sacco and Cerreta, 2020). A further three articles described industrial symbiosis solutions that included plastics and other waste materials, from China (Dong et al., 2013), Europe (Domenech et al., 2019) and one article researching a proposed online digital marketplace for plastic reuse (de Jong and Mellquist, 2021). ...
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... The trip rate is a direct consequence of the return rate, as the cup is lost before it reaches the number of cycles it can be washed before it is worn out. Several authors have described the comparison between single-use and reusable products in the framework of the circular economy in terms of break-even points [22,23] or theoretical trip rates rather than calculating trip rate based on empirical data. ...
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This article aims at comparing the environmental performance of single-use and multiple use beer cups at festivals. A life cycle assessment is conducted for assessing the potential environmental impacts of 1000 servings of 0.5 l of beer at Norwegian festivals. Three single-use systems are considered: one with incineration, one with open loop recycling, and one with closed loop recycling. The two first single-use systems and the reuse system assume the use of PP cups, while the latter uses PET cups, as PET is the only plastic material which currently allows a closed loop recycling system. Existing literature has shown that the choice of system depends on several site-specific parameters such as the definition of the trip rate in a reuse system and on the festival participant’s behaviour. In this article, we calculate the trip rate in the reuse system based on the cup return rates, which varies between all systems. The return rate was calculated using empirical data for Norway’s largest festival. In addition, the recycling stage is modelled with both cut-off and system expansion for assessing the robustness of the results. To reduce environmental impacts related to the serving of beers, festivals are advised to get an overview of the flows of the cups after use, to measure and limit their waste, and to have good collection systems for handling the cups as intended. The results of this study show that this is more important than the choice of cup material. LCA practitioners should be cautious with the implications of the end-of-life modelling approach on the results.
... In 2020, the food bag center reported using approximately 150 new non-woven polypropylene bags, 100 LDPE plastic bags, and 100 paper bags, the CF of which was estimated based on 0.65, 0.11, and 0.031 kg CO 2 e/bag, respectively, including end-oflife management through incineration, (Bisinella et al., 2018). The CF for 2.5 reusable plastic crates (3.279 kg CO 2 e/crate) was also included for the food bag center (Tua et al., 2019). For the soup kitchen, the CF of 9500 LPDE freezer bags, 50 LPDE plastic bags, and 25 paper bags per annum was accounted for (Bisinella et al., 2018). ...
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... Reusable items have higher weight, so transportation gives greater contribution. On the other hand, if plastic single use crates are considered, the advantages of the reusable system are evident after only two uses (Tua et al., 2019). Comparisons between disposable cardboard boxes and reusable plastic boxes (Bala and Fullana, 2017) (Abejón, 2020) stated the convenience in adopting multi-use systems over single-use ones. ...
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Politicians and non-governmental organisations (NGO) are lobbying for the implementation of reusable packages for fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) to limit the impact of packaging waste on our environment. This opinion paper summarises the knowledge on reusable packaging in the public literature and the experience of incumbents with reusable packaging systems. The intention of this opinion paper is to offer insights under which conditions it can and cannot be implemented successfully with respect to the reduction of environmental impacts. The overview of the scientific literature revealed that indeed reusable packaging systems are presented in many articles as possible solutions to limit the environmental impact of FMCG’s. Most of these articles do, however, not describe actually reusable packaging systems that operate in reality, but rather describe what if scenario’s with guesstimated parameters. These studies therefore, show that under ideal conditions reusable packaging systems are beneficial for the environment. Interviews with incumbents that operate a reusable packaging system, revealed an ambiguous relationship of FMCG producers to reusable packaging systems; existing systems based on glass packaging are cherished and maintained, but there is also hardly any incumbent that wants to extend or erect new reusable systems. This largely relates to the fact that existing reusable packaging systems are used where it makes sense. Furthermore, the operational costs of existing well-performing reuse systems are lower than of single use systems, but the initial investment costs to establish a reuse system are large, effectively limiting further market expansion. Additionally, the interviews with the incumbents resulted in a long list of conditions that have to be met to make a reuse system successful and help not only to limit littering but also limit greenhouse gas emissions. This knowledge is, however, not available in the public literature. Therefore, the stakeholders have diverging opinions on reusable packaging. Some politicians and NGO’s regard it as an effective and tangible method to act on the environmental impacts, whereas FMCG producers and retailers see multiple challenges that need to be dealt with and worry that the contrived societal benefits will not be achieved and substantial investments need to be done at no avail.
Chapter
Plastic is one of the most essential parts of day‐to‐day life and has been used everywhere for many the applications. Plastics are a type of synthetic polymers mostly comprised of various elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and chloride. Plastics are mainly manufactred from fossil sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Various popular and widely used plastics are polyethylene (PE), polyethyleneterephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), nylons, polystyrene (PS), polyurethane (PU), and polyvinylchloride (PVC). Plastics are mostly considered as a pollutant to the environment because of inefficient and non‐sustainable methods for disposal of them. Plastic wastes are responsible for increasing the ecological threat to all inhabitants of our planet. In 2015, almost 381 million tons of plastic was produced and it was cumulative as 7.81 billion tons by 2015. The used plastics are mainly discarded, incinerated, and recycled as methods of disposal. In view of the new circular economy and sustainable development context, the environmental performance of various services and products is a very important aspect, which has been gaining importance over the last few years. Environmental impacts during the lifecycle of products and services may be quantified with the help of various methods, such as strategic environmental assessment (SEA), environmental risk assessment (ERA), material flow analysis (MFA), life cycle assessment (LCA), environmental impact assessment (EIA), cost‐benefit analysis (CBA), and the ecological footprint (EF) method. Life cycle assessment is the most promising and popular method for assessing the environmental impact, and this methodology may be easily applied to every product and system to explain the type and the disparity among various results. This chapter focuses on life cycle assessment of plastics for the issues of sustainability. In view of this, various basic consideration of life cycle assessment such as basic approach, definitions, tools, frameworks, methodologies, ways, and classifications have been presented, and its application for plastic and plastic industries have been discussed.
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Abstract Purpose The year-round supply of fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe requires a complex logistics system. In this study, the most common European fruit and vegetable transport packaging systems; namely single-use wooden and cardboard boxes and multi -use re-useable plastic crates; are analyzed and compared considering environmental, economic and social impacts. Methods The environmental, economic and social potentials of the three transport packaging systems are examined and compared from a life cycle perspective using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Life Cycle Costing (LCC) and Life Cycle Working Environment (LCWE) methodologies. Relevant parameters influencing the results are analyzed in different scenarios and their impacts are quantified. The underlying environmental analysis is an ISO 14040 and 14044 comparative Life Cycle Assessment that was critically reviewed by an independent expert panel. Results and discussion The results show that wooden boxes and plastic crates perform very similarly in the GWP, AP and POCP categories; while plastic crates have a lower impact in the EP and ADP categories. Cardboard boxes show the highest impacts in all assessed categories. The analysis of the life cycle costs show that the re-usable plastic system is the most cost-effective over its entire life cycle. For the production of a single crate, the plastic crates require the most human labor. The share of female employment for the cardboard boxes is the lowest. All three systems require a relatively large share of low-qualified employees. The plastic crate system shows a much lower lethal accident rate. The higher rate for the wooden and cardboard boxes arises mainly from wood logging. In addition, the sustainability consequences due to the influence of packaging in preventing food losses are discussed and future research combining aspects both from food LCAs and transport packing/packaging LCAs is recommended. Conclusions For all three systems, optimization potentials regarding their environmental life cycle performance were identified. Wooden boxes (single-use system) and plastics crates (re-usable system) show preferable environmental performance. The calibration of the system parameters, such as end-of-life treatment, showed environmental optimization potentials in all transport packaging systems. The assessment of the economic and the social dimensions in parallel is important in order to avoid trade-offs between the three sustainability dimensions. Merging economic and social aspects into a Life Cycle Assessment is becoming more and more important and their integration into one model ensures a consistent modeling approach for a manageable effort.
Article
Re-use of packaging items plays a key role in the achievement of sustainable management of the resources. The aim of this study is to assess the environmental impacts associated with the life cycle of steel drums used for carrying chemical and petrochemical products as a function of the number of uses (the so-called “rotations”), by means of the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. The results show that the impacts of the life cycle of the steel drums mainly come from their manufacturing, whereas the reconditioning process accounts for less than 20% of the overall impacts. Moreover, a system where the drums are reconditioned and re-used has better environmental performance than a system where the same drums are used only once and then sent to recycling. The advantages of such a system increase with the number of rotations. For example, in case just two rotations take place, the environmental impacts of a system based on re-use are on average about 74% of those of a single-use system, and drop to 53% if the number of uses increases to 10. The behavior of the drums users is thus very important to prevent excessive damage that will make reconditioning impossible.
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It is the overarching aim of the circular economy to maintain the value of products, materials, and resources for as long as possible, and the re-use of packaging can play an important role in achieving this. Nevertheless, reliable information about reusable packaging in Europe is lacking. To address such a gap, this paper proposes a methodology to collect data on packaging re-use, aimed at carrying out some preliminary assessment. This methodology can be applied in different geographical contexts (i.e., in different countries) and allows the creation of an inventory of comparable data for legislative compliance and statistical purposes. The suggested methodology has been applied to the Italian context, as a case study, resulting in a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the practice of packaging re-use in Italy. The emerged criticalities and limitations are finally discussed, and recommendations are given to get reliable and representative data.
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Food packaging facilitates storage, handling, transport, and preservation of food and is essential for preventing food waste. Besides these beneficial properties, food packaging causes rising concern for the environment due to its high production volume, often short usage time, and problems related to waste management and littering. Reduction, reuse, and recycling, but also redesign support the aims of the circular economy. These tools also have the potential to decrease the environmental impact of food packaging. In this article, we focus on chemical safety aspects of recycled food packaging, as recycling is currently seen as an important measure to manage packaging waste. However, recycling may increase the levels of potentially hazardous chemicals in the packaging and -after migration- in the food. Since exposure to certain chemicals migrating from food packaging has been associated with chronic diseases, it is of high importance to assess the safety of recycled packaging. Therefore, we describe recycling processes of commonly used food packaging materials, including plastics, paper and board, aluminum, steel, and multimaterial multilayers (e.g., beverage cartons). Further, we give an overview of typical migrants from all types of recycled food packaging materials, and summarize approaches to reduce chemical contamination. We discuss the role of food packaging in the circular economy, where recycling is only one of many complementary tools for providing environmentally-friendly and safe food packaging.
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Increasing concern for sustainability compels citizens and enterprises to reduce waste and encourage recycling, reuse and remanufacturing of end-of-life products. Since packaging is one of the most relevant waste sources, attention to packaging design and management is warranted, especially in sectors where packaging is integral to handling and transportation, i.e. the fresh food supply chain. The analysis of a product′s life cycle highlights potential sources of waste throughout the food supply chain (FSC). This paper proposes an original conceptual framework for the integrated design of a food packaging and distribution network. The framework′s generality supports application to different food manufacturing and distribution supply chains. The paper considers fresh fruit and vegetable flow throughout a food catering chain, from vendors to final customers. The paper compares a multi-use system to traditional single-use packaging (e.g. wooden boxes, disposable plastic crates and cardboard boxes) to quantify the economic returns and environmental impacts of the reusable plastic container (RPC). Life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology is used to evaluate the carbon footprint (CF) associated with the life cycle of packages in this distribution network. Sensitivity analysis explores how drivers and parameters (i.e. RPC lifespan, washing rate, waste disposal treatment, network geography) alter the environmental and economic impacts. The paper concludes with implications of the results and suggestions for further investigation.
Article
During a product's entire life cycle the significance of packaging varies in terms of environmental impacts. From the perspective of companies which manufacture packaging or packaging has an important role in their value chain it can be a relevant issue to focus on in their efforts to improve the environmental performance of their activities. The aim of this study was to compare the life cycle environmental impacts of a real product (bread) delivery system using either reusable HPDE plastic crates or recyclable corrugated cardboard (CCB) boxes for product transportation. In this paper we focused on the delivery systems (not the delivered product) covering the manufacturing of the crates/boxes, their use, the delivery routes from bakery to retailers and waste management/recycling of the crates/boxes. As a result we concluded that the recyclable CCB box system was a more environmentally friendly option than the reusable HPDE plastic crate system in all the studied impact categories based on the defined boundaries and assumptions. Transportation played a very important role in the environmental impacts of the analysed systems. Therefore, changes, e.g. in the weights of products and their secondary packaging or the transportation distances could affect the results considerably.
Article
Today's demanding distribution challenges require engineers to choose from various types of materials, design and construction methods, to develop containers that can deliver goods with minimal damage. The challenge is even greater when packing and shipping goods which are perishable and sensitive to both physical and climatic changes in environment. In recent years the type of packaging material used to design and construct containers has undergone more scrutiny than ever, due to environmental challenges. This study focuses on two types of containers that have been designed and are being used to pack and ship fresh fruits and vegetables. The study compares the re-usable plastic containers to single-use display-ready paper corrugated trays. Results show that, based on the scope of this study and comparing 10 different produce items, such as apples, carrots, grapes, oranges, onions, tomatoes, strawberries, etc., the re-usable plastic containers require 39% less total energy, produce 95% less total solid waste and generate 29% less total greenhouse gas emissions. This study focused on the North American market. Major European nations have been using a large number of re-usable plastic containers for these types of fresh produce for the past three decades. This study was initiated by the Franklin Associates, an independent consulting firm for allowing an in-depth review of all data and results from a two year study titled: Life Cycle Inventory of Reusable Plastic Containers and Display-Ready Corrugated Containers Used for Fresh Produce Applications. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Article
Life Cycle Assessment is a tool to assess the environmental impacts and resources used throughout a product's life cycle, i.e., from raw material acquisition, via production and use phases, to waste management. The methodological development in LCA has been strong, and LCA is broadly applied in practice. The aim of this paper is to provide a review of recent developments of LCA methods. The focus is on some areas where there has been an intense methodological development during the last years. We also highlight some of the emerging issues. In relation to the Goal and Scope definition we especially discuss the distinction between attributional and consequential LCA. For the Inventory Analysis, this distinction is relevant when discussing system boundaries, data collection, and allocation. Also highlighted are developments concerning databases and Input-Output and hybrid LCA. In the sections on Life Cycle Impact Assessment we discuss the characteristics of the modelling as well as some recent developments for specific impact categories and weighting. In relation to the Interpretation the focus is on uncertainty analysis. Finally, we discuss recent developments in relation to some of the strengths and weaknesses of LCA.
European Packaging Competitive Landscape Strategic Forecasts to 2023. Smithers Pira in Association with Packaging Europe
  • D Platt
Platt, D. European Packaging Competitive Landscape Strategic Forecasts to 2023. Smithers Pira in Association with Packaging Europe 2018. Available online: https://www.smitherspira.com/industry-market-reports/ european-packaging-competitive-landscape-to-2023 (accessed on 20 May 2019).