Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Single-Serve Coffee Packaging in Ontario
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Single-serve coffee pods are occupying a growing share in the coffee market. In Ontario, with 14 million people, it is estimated that 2 billion single-serve coffee pods are consumed annually, the consumption of which generates 30,000 tons of landfill waste in Ontario, equivalent to 0.3% of total landfill waste generated in the province in 2014. Different formats of coffee pods have been introduced, and each addresses the waste problem differently. Two examples are recyclable coffee pods made of aluminum and compostable coffee pods made from biodegradable polymers. In this research, these two coffee pod formats are investigated together with a typical petroleum-based plastic coffee pod, which represents the baseline landfilling scenario. A cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA) is conducted to quantify and compare the environmental effects of these systems, with a special focus on packaging materials and end-of-life management. The results show that among the three investigated coffee pods, the recyclable aluminum format has the highest potential environmental effects across nine impact categories. Whereas, the Biodegradable Pod, which is assumed to be composted in 40% of uses, has reduced greenhouse gas emissions and landfill waste generation potential when compared with the petroleum-based plastic coffee pod. After applying a standard LCA weighting, results indicate that human toxicity is the most important life cycle impact assessment indicator result associated with all three of coffee pod formats. This research is important from both a biodegradable material and a circular economy perspective. From a biodegradable material perspective, this study is the first to compare polylactic acid, a bio-based biodegradable polymer, with polystyrene, a petroleum-based non-degradable plastic. Biodegradable materials enable consumers easily to compost the coffee waste together with the coffee pod, but at the same time, it requires an extra plastic packaging warp for each coffee pod. From a circular economy perspective, the study is important because the results indicate the strength of using compostable biological nutrients over recyclable technical nutrients in the context of small single-use food products. Like all LCA studies, the results are dependent on specific assumptions and scenarios analyzed.
Cite this work
Jingxi Li (2018). Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Single-Serve Coffee Packaging in Ontario. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/12860