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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Paper vs leaf: Carbon footprint of single-use plates made from renewable materials

Malefors, Christopher; Lalander, Cecilia; Wikström, Fredrik; Eriksson, Mattias

Abstract

Plastic pollution of the natural environment world-wide is ubiquitous. More than 80% of marine litter is made of plastics, 70% of which originates from disposable items, so plastic disposables need to be replaced with disposables made from renewable materials. However, it is important to investigate the environmental impact of renewable alternatives through their life cycle, in order to support sustainable consumption and production. In this study, the carbon footprint of disposable plates made from two different renewable materials (paper, tree leaves) were analysed using life cycle assessment. The leaf plate was produced in India and the paper plate in Finland, but both were used and disposed of in Sweden. The results showed that the leaf plate had higher carbon footprint, due to long-distance transport and use of fossil fuel-based electricity for production. Scenario analysis indicated that the emissions associated with the leaf plate were lower when replacing air freight with sea transport and with economies of scale in expanded production. For the paper plate, the processing stage was shown to contribute most life cycle emissions. These could be lowered by applying a biodegradable coating. In comparison the leaf plate had the benefit of being biodegradable, but this benefit was not enough to compete with the paper plate which was consider the less environmentally damaging alternative. However, in order to increase sustainability in the food supply chain, it will not be enough to just improve the material use for single use plates, especially since the idea of single use materials could be seen as less sustainable, but improved materials have the potential to offset the anticipated growth of the food service sector where single use items are widely used. (C) 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of Institution of Chemical Engineers.

Keywords

Sustainable Development; Life cycle assessment; Disposable plates

Published in

Sustainable Production and Consumption
2021, Volume: 25, pages: 77-90