Rice is packaged in many different ways. Which way is the most sustainable for the environment? A Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) was performed on three different rice packages to analyze even the most minute details that could result in a more “sustainable” solution.
Package 1: Gusseted Nylon/HDPE/LDPE Stand Up Pouch
Package 2: Kraft Paper Folding Carton w/ Laminated Polyethylene
Package 3: Polyethylene Pillow Pouch w/ Overlap Seal
Each package was reverse engineered and broken down to see exactly what it entailed. The weights of every component were recorded and summed in a spreadsheet.
This study was performed in order to evaluate the environmental impact of three separate brown rice packaging systems and explore alternative packaging solutions in order to increase the overall sustainability of packaging. In short, the study had the following key areas of focus:
- Study the environment impact of three packaging systems using Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) software by Earth Shift Global.
- Determine the packaging systems that produce the lowest environmental impacts.
- Suggest possible solutions to reduce the environmental impact of packaging.
Before jumping into the report, it is important that the word “Sustainability” is addressed. In this case, sustainability is calculated using 6 different indicators: Climate Change, Energy, Ecosystems, Human Health, and Water. These 6 indicators have different weights depending on the inputs of the system. To learn more about how these indicators are calculated I urge you to go to the Earth Shift Global Website – Here you will find everything you need to know about where the numbers come from.
System Boundaries and Flow Diagrams
To further understand this study, the scope of the project must be discussed. This particular study analyzes the packaging materials from cradle to grave. Each package was broken down to a functional unit of rice (ounces) that was even across the board for each system. In this case, 224 oz was used as the functional unit. in other words, how much energy or how sustainable was each package at delivering 224 oz of brown rice?
Shipping and Load
The analysis did not stop at the primary package. Secondary, tertiary, raw material source and country of origin all had an effect on the sustainability of the package. Below are the CAPE diagrams exploring the secondary and tertiary load-out.
Well, what do you think? Which package do you think was “worse” for the environment?
Analyzing the data, it is clear that for all six indicators, the paper folding carton is worse for the environment. Why? Well, there are a few reasons: To start, the pulping process requires a large amount of water. With this being a valuable resource and an indicator in the sustainability equation, logically this package scores a poor rating. Also, a large factor explaining why the paper folding carton ranked so poorly is because of the raw quantity of rice it delivered to the market. The carton delivered around 14 ounces of rice while the other two packages delivered upwards of 30. Paper is also heavy. This effects transport and logistics sustainability. Again this is another reason why the paper carton did not score as desirable as the other packages. Lastly, this particular paper package had a small layer of polyethylene to inhibit moisture from entering the paper.
Along with analyzing the primary package, hypothetical scenarios were created and calculated using the same program. To read more about this research and the results, please download the full report.