Oregon DEQ releases life cycle assessment of popular food service packaging attributes

When making purchasing choices we often make assumptions about the environmental-friendliness of a product based on the descriptions on the packaging. It is common to see characteristics, or “attributes,” describing the material used such as made from recycled or bio-based material, and what we can do with the package after the product is removed (e.g. whether it is recyclable or compostable). Many people assume that these attributes convey reduced environmental impacts relative to other options without that same attribute. But, how well do these descriptors actually predict lower impacts across the entire packaging life cycle? That is what DEQ wanted to understand because a lot of time, energy and money is spent on developing packaging to be fully recyclable or compostable, or to be made from biobased and recycled materials.

Research question: How well do popular packaging attributes correlate with net environmental benefit across the full life cycle of packaging from resource extraction to manufacture, distribution, use, and discard?

Four attributes were examined.

attscope

In 2017, DEQ’s Materials Management engaged Franklin Associates, a division of Eastern Research Group, to do a literature review of existing research done worldwide during the past two decades on the topic to glean high-level findings for packaging and food service ware.

Specifically, DEQ was interested in understanding how successful common packaging attributes are at predicting reduced environmental outcomes. We wanted to understand where and when the relationship between attributes and the inferred environmental preference holds true and the scale of impact reduction. This research is the first of its kind and tests the connection between common attributes for packaging and food service ware and environmental outcomes.

2018-2019 Attributes Webinars

DEQ is hosting a series of webinars to share and discuss the results of this research.
Participation in each webinar will be capped at 30 participants in order to allow for more discussion between participants and DEQ. Individuals will need to register for webinars based on their organizational identity or function, to allow for more focused topical discussions among similar participants. As individual webinars are filled, DEQ will add additional dates and times based on demand.

Sign up for a webinar

Technical report

Technical summaries

While reusability was not a primary focus of that research, DEQ’s contractor, in the course of reviewing literature specific to the four in-scope attributes, found several assessments that also compared reusable vs. single-use food service ware. High-level results from these comparisons are summarized in this document.

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