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)
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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
Early online date03 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2021


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


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