Development of an integrated sustainability matrix to depict challenges and trade-offs of introducing bio-based plastics in the food packaging value chain

Spyridoula Gerassimidou, Olwenn V. Martin, Stephen P. Chapman, John N. Hahladakis, Eleni Iacovidou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

53 Citations (SciVal)
177 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

As global plastic pollution is gaining increased attention, the use of bio-based plastics, especially in the food packaging sector, is growing in popularity. While this move is regarded as a solution to plastic pollution, it may shift or create detrimental impacts elsewhere in the production, consumption, management system, a possibility that is underexplored. The aim of the present study is to identify the potential challenges and trade-offs associated with the introduction of bio-based plastics in the food packaging industry, and highlight issues relevant to policy and decision-making processes. We employ a whole system approach to review the literature and assess holistically the performance of bio-based plastics, which looks at the entire lifecycle of bio-based plastic packaging (i.e. production, consumption, management) and considers wider aspects in the environmental, economic, social and technical sustainability domains. Based on our findings, we developed, and present herein, a sustainability decision matrix, a novel guiding tool, which can provide important insights into the potential impacts of the introduction of larger amount of bio-based plastic food packaging in the future and support decision-making processes. In conclusion, our preliminary high-level assessment of the bio-based plastics production, use and management system clearly reveals a number of blind-spots across the entire system that are currently ignored by the use of single-dimensional approaches. This highlights that the sustainability assessment of specific bio-based polymers requires thorough and further research that takes into account the type of feedstock, infrastructure availability, and interactions between sustainability domains, to ensure that the substitution of petrochemical-based plastics with bio-based alternatives in food packaging sector will not lead to unintended consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125378
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Volume286
Early online date03 Dec 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2021

Keywords

  • Bioplastics
  • Holistic view
  • Life cycle
  • Plastic waste management
  • Plastics
  • Sustainability

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