Life Cycle Assessment For Managing Food Waste

A rubbish tip full of unwanted materials.
A typical rubbish tip - the sort of blight that we want to keep to a minimum. Photo by hinnamsaisuy, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recent investigations into food waste management following my studies in environmental management have led me to look more closely at the life cycle assessment (LCA) approach.

It is a systematic method or tool applied to assess the environmental impact of products, processes or any activity throughout its lifecycle. It has been applied to the management of household food waste, from the extraction of raw materials to prepare the food product through production and the end use and disposal of the waste. An inventory analysis describes all relevant inputs, outputs and the transformation with a review of impact on environment and interpretation of results versus objectives as set out by the International Organisation for Standardization (2006). Generally, LCA is not enough on its own to identify the best options but it promotes networking amongst interested parties such as stakeholders, consumers and service providers, and provision of data which is not always forthcoming (Roy et al., 2009).

A study centred on Sydney, Australia (2005) by Lundie and Peters assessed an ‘in-sink’ food waste processor (FWP) with landfilling, and composting at home or in a communal and municipal waste (codisposal) system. The environmental assessment found that composting when managed properly had the least impact on the environment. When fully aerated (aerobic), composting does not contribute methane gas into the atmosphere until the system is allowed to operate in an oxygen poor environment (anaerobically). Municipal or codisposal composting improves upon the environmental process further by integrating waste disposal although scale-up leads to intensive transportation to a central site, can produce leachates which are eutrophic and generate larger volumes of methane.

The approach is also suitable for application when options for waste disposal are removed such as land fill as in South Korea (Lee et al., 2007) or severely curtailed as is happening in the United Kingdom. I’d be interested to hear from others on the extent of LCA application in waste management.

References

International Organisation for Standardisation (2006) ISO 14040. Environmental management Life Cycle Assessment – principles and framework. Geneva.
Lee, S-H., Choi, K-I., Osako, M., Dong, J-I. (2007) Evaluation of environmental burdens caused by changes of food waste management systems in Seoul, Korea. Sci Total Environ. 387 (1-3) pp. 42-53
Lundie, S.; Peters, G.M. (2005) Life cycle assessment of food waste management options. J. Cleaner Production 13(3) pp. 275-286
Roy, P., Nei, D.,Orikasa, T., Xu, Q., Okadome, H., Nakamura, N., Shiina, T. (2009) A review of life cycle assessment (LCA) on some food products. J. Food Eng., 90(1) pp. 1-10

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