"Not only the material, but also the weight of the packaging or the number of reuses influences the environmental impact"
The Director of the UNESCO Chair on Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF and observer of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at COP25, Pere Fullana i Palmer, participated yesterday in the Round Table on Circular Economy organized by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Stressing the importance of adhering to the recommendations of science, the Round Table was framed in the context of the ambition to limit global warming to 1.5°C, in accordance with the conclusions outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as the planetary boundaries highlighted through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDAs). "The science is clear: a transformation of the entire system is needed at the global level", as stressed by the organizers. Therefore, limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, soil, materials, urban infrastructure (including transport and buildings) and industrial systems; according to experts.
To support this important idea, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development pointed out some data: "One third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted, representing one trillion dollars in lost value. More importantly, this results in more than 4.4 Gt of CO2e being emitted each year. In fact, if the loss of food and waste were your own country, you would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China.
Therefore, it is recognized that the loss of food and waste is a serious threat to the economy and the environment. But what causes it? These losses and wastes occur because of a number of problems along the supply chain, including the packaging stage. Therefore, packaging can be an opportunity to reduce it, as it is of vital importance to "protect food during transport, provide convenience and adequate portion size to the consumer and prolong the shelf life of some products that risk spoiling before they reach the final consumer", as highlighted by the organisers
"It is imperative to find solutions that are beneficial to the environment," as the director of the Chair pointed out. Fullana i Palmer stressed that "we are in an emergency situation and we have to give our opinion so that decision-makers take action now and do not stop". Furthermore, "we all need to know how the products and services we buy impact on climate change and it is essential that sufficient public and private funding is available to assess the impact of all these products throughout their life cycle, as well as to communicate this to the public," she added.
This is why business, governments, scientists and civil society are called upon to work together to find the right balance between minimizing food loss and minimizing packaging waste through effective packaging solutions. And this can be a controversial issue, according to the organizers: "There is an urgent need to bring to market solutions that eliminate plastic packaging or introduce a substitute material. However, "these solutions are not always beneficial to the environment and can increase food waste".
In this sense, the director of the Chair called for a more intelligent use and management of plastics. Although plastic waste is a major problem affecting landfills and oceans around the world, when used correctly and carefully, plastic can offer some benefits that other materials cannot, such as weight reduction, energy savings, strength and durability, among others.
By way of example, he explained some of the conclusions of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study carried out as part of the LIFE Zero Cabin Waste project by the Chair's researchers. The objective of this study is to identify critical points throughout the entire life cycle of packaging and tableware. "Variables such as material, weight and number of reuses can have a major influence on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The analysis revealed that lighter disposable packaging and tableware for airline catering are less harmful from a life cycle perspective," according to the study.
In pointing out another example, Fullana i Palmer mentioned the study of fresh fruit and vegetable logistics carried out by the Chair, in relation to the use of single-use wooden and cardboard boxes and reusable plastic boxes. "Which is the best option: renewable, recyclable or reusable," she asked. "Either may be the best option depending on your application. For example, for short distances, it's best to use the multiple-use option, but for very long distances, single-use options can provide better performance," he argued.
Finally, Fullana i Palmer also pointed out the need to change our diet towards more sustainable diets and food systems, both in their nutritional and environmental dimensions. "The food sector is fundamental to climate change and in our studies we have found that, for this sector, more packaging means less impact", she explained. Thus, quoting Bob Marley, he concluded: "It's not all gold that shines, half the story has never been told, so now that you see the light, stand up for your rights".
Pere Fullana i Palmer is also a scientific advisor to the Association of Logistics Operators of Reusable Eco-sustainable Elements (ARECO), which promotes the use of reusable packaging and transport containers to contribute to economic sustainability and, consequently, to the protection of the environment. It is made up of the companies IFCO SYSTEMS, Euro Pool System and Logifruit, which represent 90% of this market in Spain..