How origin, packaging and seasonality determine the environmental impact of apples, magnified by food waste and losses
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Using apple consumption in Belgium as a case study, this study examines the environmental impacts associated with Belgian (BE) and New Zealand (NZ) apples, how impacts evolve throughout the year and how packaging affects this impact. Additionally, impacts associated with food losses and food waste along the chain are assessed. The study aims to delineate the most important factors in determining environmental impacts associated with apple.
The environmental impacts are calculated using the ILCD (International Reference Life Cycle Data System) approach. The functional unit is 1 kg of apples purchased by a consumer in the supermarket. Primary data was collected through players along the chain. Various scenarios are analysed for both the BE and NZ apples, based on the moment of purchase and packaging method. Food loss and waste impacts are assessed by splitting the impacts along the chain into three categories: apples lost along the supply chain, apples purchased and eaten by the consumer and apples purchased and wasted by the consumer.
Results and discussion
For all impact categories assessed, NZ apples come at a higher environmental cost than BE ones due to overseas transport. For both BE and NZ apples, minimum impacts are found for bulk apples at the beginning of the season, whereas maximum values are found for pre-packed apples at the end of the season. For BE apples, the choice of packaging method highly affects the impact, while it is negligible relative to shipping impacts for NZ apples. Altering secondary packaging materials of BE apples allows for impact reductions up to 50%. In the case of climate change, food waste and losses contribute up to 25% or 15% for BE or NZ apples, respectively, as all lost food travels in vain through the food chain and needs to be disposed of.
The study shows the importance of origin and packaging, whereas the moment of purchase hardly affects the environmental impact of apples. From a supply chain perspective, there is room for improvement as altering the use of secondary packaging greatly reduces impacts along the chain. The study further highlights how impacts are magnified by food waste and losses.
KeywordsApple Food waste Food chain Food losses Fresh produce Origin Packaging Seasonality
The authors greatly acknowledge the support of the Science, Engineering and Technology Group at KU Leuven for the Expertise Centre Ethics@Arenberg.
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