Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Life Cycle Analysis Allows For Making Informed Science-Based Decisions

When it comes to packaging, there are always trade-offs to be made. Our idealized view of the way in which eggs should be packed - for example as shown in the image on the right - or what may sound or feel right, is not always what does right for the environment. 

That’s where Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) can help - through allowing one to make informed science-based decisions. 

In the case described below, a LCA helped Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs make the decision as to whether paper or recycled plastic cartons are better for the environment. 

The $64K question

In a post on their website, Pete and Gerry's say, "A question that we get a lot usually goes like this: 'I love your eggs and your commitment to animal welfare and the environment, but why do you use plastic egg cartons? Isn’t that worse for the environment?'"

"It’s an excellent question," they continue. "We’ve all come to see plastic as bad. It’s derived from a non-renewable source (oil), it doesn’t decompose for a very long time, and these days, a lot of it is winding into the oceans. So it’s understandable that it has a bad reputation."

"On the other hand, the molded pulp cartons and the polystyrene foam cartons are not environmental home runs either, for many of the same reasons. So what’s a well-meaning person to do?"

Third party LCA study

To find the answer and Pete and Gerry's worked with a third-party to conduct a LCA of the options available on the market. In 2012 they hired Quantis, a Canadian research company specializing in the environmental impact of products, to do a complete comparative environmental life cycle assessment of egg cartons.
According to Pete and Gerry's, "Quantis looked across the raw material sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, and end of life/recycling aspects for RPET (our recycled PET clear package), virgin PET, Recycled Molded Pulp (RMP) and Polystyrene (commonly known as styrofoam). They scored that as a total Carbon/Climate Change footprint score based on all of those life stages. They also scored them on the basis of Human Health, Ecosystem Quality, and Resource Depletion measures."

Choice made based off real data

"We went with the most environmentally-friendly packaging based off real data," Pete and Gerry's explain.

"The RPET carton that we use was determined to be superior, or vastly superior, to both the Molded Pulp and Polystyrene as a whole, and across all of the individual life stages, with the one exception – it has a slightly higher manufacturing impact than recycled pulp. It is worth noting that the worst option was typically the PET plastic made from virgin plastic. That’s because of the high amount of fossil fuels required both as energy and raw material in its production. This is what large 2-liter soda bottles are made from (so think about that the next time you’re considering buying soda). We take the recycled material from those containers to make our cartons. The tri-fold PET also has an important consumer benefit in that it provides the best protection for the eggs while allowing you to see the unbroken eggs without opening the carton in the store."

"Once used, our cartons can then be placed right back in the recycling stream for another trip through the system. Paper pulp can also be recycled. Styrofoam all goes to the landfill to wait for the end of time."

Best possible solution for the time being

There you have it - what sounds or feels right does not always do right by the environment. As Pete and Gerry's conclude, "While we wish we could sell our eggs in wooden boxes or wicker baskets that were re-used over and over, we feel as though we’ve arrived at the best possible solution we can for the time being."

Bravo, Pete and Gerry's for not going with gut feel, and for taking the time and money to conduct a LCA to be able to make an informed science-based decision regarding the best packaging for your organic eggs! Looking forward to following you on your sustainability journey on Twitter!

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