(611c) Sustainability of Nano-Packaging Use for Food Shelf Life Extension: Life Cycle Assessment Perspective

Authors: 
Huang, J. Y., Purdue University
Zhang, B. Y., UIUC
Tong, Y., Purdue University
Singh, S., Purdue University
Cai, H., Purdue University
Food waste is a severe economic and environmental problem in industrialized countries. Nano-packaging has recently become a promising technology for food preservation with increased shelf life, and hence has the potential to reduce food waste. However, the production of nanomaterials can generate a variety of environmental burdens, including the use of energy, water, and other resources, and the associated emissions. In this study, a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment was conducted to evaluate the net carbon footprint of four nano-packaging systems containing selected food products, considering the direct impact of nanomaterial production and the indirect impact caused by food waste reduction. With the functional unit defined as 1 kg of food product and the required amount of nano-packaging materials, the global warming potential (GWP) associated with the nano-packaging system was highly affected by the concentration of incorporated nanomaterials and the type of packaged food. Furthermore, the packaging-food ratio played an important role in the relative contributions of nanomaterial, polymer, and food to the GWP of a nano-packaging system. A consumer behavior study was also performed to indirectly quantify the amount of food waste reduced resulting from the shelf life extension of food products. The results showed that the GWP decreased due to food waste reduction was significantly higher than the additional GWP produced by nanomaterials, indicating a net beneficial impact of the use of nano-packaging on the carbon footprint of food preservation. This proof-of-concept study presents a novel methodological framework to evaluate the environmental trade-offs of nano-packaging for food preservation, which can help the public better understand the net carbon footprint of nano-packaging from a life cycle perspective. The results of this study are expected to provide the groundwork for food manufacturers to make more informative decisions on the applications of this emerging technology in food industry.