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LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT SCIENTISTS URGE EU POLICY MAKERS TO TREAT SOME
PACKAGING ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENTS WITH CAUTION
To European policy makers,
We are writing to urge the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that are presently
debating the European Union (EU) Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) to treat
the results of some Environmental Impact Assessments with caution.
We are particularly worried about some recently published reports on the benefits of single-use
packaging which contain methodological flaws meaning that they do not account for the full
complexity of environmental impacts. As MEPs enter final negotiations on the PPWR, and as the
European Council continues to negotiate the text, we are keen that their decisions be based on
scientifically robust assessments.
Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) are snapshots of a products’ environmental impacts. Because
they are snapshots, their results depend on how they are framed. Small variations in
assumptions (rate of return, breakage rate, weight) and incomparable functional units can
completely change results and undermine the applicability of an LCA. Particularly important
assumptions include the number of reuses; the weight of reusable products; washing; and
transport logistics. These variables are not fixed in time and will change as systems of packaging
evolve. As a result, the impact of different packaging options will evolve with time.
We have seen LCA studies comparing single-use packaging and reuse packaging to demonstrate
that single-use is invariably better. Yet while it is straightforward to compare two single-use
products which go from cradle to grave in one go, it is more complex for products used multiple
times, where it is the business model - not the product - which is evaluated. In such cases,
rather than evaluating one scenario (e.g., 20 reuses or 50 km distance for the reuse phase),
sensitivity analyses and scenario analyses must be used to determine the break-even point. This
is the minimum number of times that a reusable product must be used to be environmentally
better (if at all) than an equivalent number of uses of a single-use product. Only these recursive
analyses can provide a systemic and comprehensive view. Studies which compare single-use
products with reusable options and do not include sensitivity analyses or break-even points are
simply inaccurate.
We would like to point you to the European Commission Impact Assessment for the PPWR and
the UN report on single-use which are comprehensive starting points to assess the
environmental impacts of different packaging options.
If other LCAs are used to make policy decisions, their methodology must be checked before
looking at their results. To guarantee that an LCA is robust, we advise you to check that it:
1. Is a peer-reviewed, independent study conducted using the ISO 14040 and 14044
frameworks. The study should be reviewed by an independent third party or by an
independent chaired review panel.
2. Respects steps laid out in ISO standards, starting with clear scope definition and
comprehensive description of inventory data. First, the goal and scope definition stage
must precisely describe the product studied, the functional unit, the scope of the study,
the assumptions made for each life cycle stage, and the methodology used to calculate
impacts. Second, the inventory stage must describe and quantify the inputs and outputs
involved in the life cycle of the system studied. Third, the LCA impact stage assesses the
potential environmental impacts by converting the inventory data into specific impact
indicators. It can involve different methods which must be specified. Fourth, the
interpretation stage has as final aim the formulation of recommendations to improve the
environmental performance of the system under study. We would like to emphasize that
access to the goal and scope definition and the inventory data (stages 1 and 2) is a
non-negotiable prerequisite to validity. This is because even a small variation in the
methodological parameters or the inventory can significantly alter results.
3. Assesses the highest possible number of environmental indicators. The Product
Environmental Footprint (PEF 3.1) method includes 16 mid-point impact categories (e.g.
climate change, water resource depletion, land use transformation, human toxicity…).
The ReCiPe LCA model includes 18 midpoint impact categories. Any exclusion of an
indicator must be thoroughly justified.
4. Includes the full life-cycle of the product reviewed, from cradle to grave. Both upstream
impacts (e.g. material production) and downstream impacts (e.g. recycling or
incineration) must be assessed.
5. Includes clear hypotheses and assumptions on breakage rate, return (trip) rate, weight
and end of life strategies (including recycling performance, quality of the recyclate,
waste-to-energy, and repurpose) both for single-use and reusable packaging.
6. If assumptions or lower quality data on parameters have been used, performs a
sensitivity analysis and discloses the source of such data. The conclusion of this
sensitivity analysis should be included in the study, to ensure that the implications of
using poor quality data are transparent.
7. Considers different business model configurations for the use and end of life phases,
alongside clear sensitivity analyses.
8. Integrates static comparisons with dynamic ones such as the evaluation of the
environmental break-even points.
Any report which assesses environmental impacts without transparency of data, a peer-review
process or respect for established frameworks cannot be considered a good environmental
impact assessment and so caution should be exercised when considering the results and
recommendations.
If you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Signatories:
Alba Bala Gala, Researcher UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF, Barcelona,
Spain.
Dario Cottafava, researcher at the University of Turin, Department of Economics and Statistics
"Cognetti de Martiis"
Ilija Sazdovski, Researcher, UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF, Barcelona,
Spain.
Joana Beigbeder, Associate Professor, IMT Mines Alès, France
Lucia Rigamonti, Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering,
Politecnico di Milano
Paul Refalo, Senior Lecturer, Department of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, University
of Malta
Tom Ligthart, Senior scientist sustainability assessment in the Expertise Group for Climate, Air
and Sustainability, TNO
Agata Matarazzo, Associate Professor, University of Catania
Anders Damgaard, Associate Professor at the Technical University of Denmark.
Anna Maria Ferrari, Dipartimento di Scienze e Metodi dell'Ingegneria, Università degli Studi di
Modena e Reggio Emilia
Prof Anna Mazzi, Associate Professor at University of Padova, Department of Industrial
Engineering
Prof. Anne Ventura, research director at Material and Structure Department, University Gustave
Eiffel, Nantes, France
Antonin Pépin, Researcher, INRAE, Mixed Research Unit SAS, Rennes, France
Carlo Proserpio, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano
Dr. Christel Renaud-Gentié, associate professor, GRAPPE, ESA, USC n°1422, INRAE 49007,
Angers, France
Ciprian Cimpan, Faculty of Engineering, University of Southern Denmark Life Cycle Engineering
Cristina Campos Herrero. Pre-doctoral Researcher UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate
Change ESCI-UPF. Barcelona.Spain
Daniele Cespi, Dipartimento di Chimica Industriale, Università di Bologna
Eleni Iacovidou, Division of Environmental Sciences, Department of Life Sciences, College of
Health, Medicing and Life Sciences, Brunel University London, UK
Erwin Rauch, Professor for Sustainable Manufacturing, Free University of Bolzano
Estefania Sanabria Garcia, Research Group Sustainable Systems Engineering (STEN), Department
Green Chemistry and Technology, Faculty of, Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University
Federico Cuomo, Department of Management Engineering of the Polytechnic of Milan
Federico Sisani, TREE Srl - Università di Perugia
Gaia Brussa, Researcher at AWARE- Assessment on WAste and REsources, Dipartimento di
Ingegneria Civile e Ambientale (DICA), Politecnico di Milano
Giulia Cavenage, Researcher at Politecnico di Milano, Department of Civil and Environmental
Engineering
Giulia Sonetti, CENSE - Center for Environmental and Sustainability Research
Giuseppe Cecere, Research assistant, Assessment on Waste and Resources research group,
Politecnico di Milano
Dr. Guillaume Junqua, Associate Professor, IMT Mines Alès, France
Guillermo Casasnovas, Assistant Professor at Esade Center for Social Impact
Hazem Eltohamy, Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden University, The Netherlands
Hugo Henrique de Simone Souza, Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil (UFMS)
Irene Taradellas, Manager, Impact Hub Barcelona
Jacopo Famiglietti, Department of Energy, Politecnico di Milano
Joost Duflou, Departement Werktuigkunde, KU Leuven
Joseph Kimaro, Department of Business and Law, Southampton Solent University, Southampton,
UK
Laura Corazza, Assistant Professor at the University of Turin, Department of Management
Lela Mélon, Professor of Sustainability in Business Law, Faculty of Law, Pompeu Fabra University,
Barcelona, Spain.
Ligia da Silva Lima, Research Group Sustainable Systems Engineering (STEN), Department of
Green Chemistry and Technology, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University,
Marco Cervino, Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (CNR-ISAC), LCA working group at
UNIMORE-DISMI
Mario Grosso, Environmental Section, Politecnico di Milano
Matteo Vincenzo Rocco, Matteo Vincenzo Rocco, Associate Professor, Politecnico di Milano
Michel André, Senior Scientist at Components and Systems Research Department, Gustave Eiffel
University, France
Michael S. Corson, Researcher, INRAE, Mixed Research Unit SAS, Rennes, France
Miguel Lopez-Ferber, Professor in Environmental Sciences. IMT Mines Alès
Monia Niero, Associate professor, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies
Nadia Lambiase, CEO at Mercato Circolare & Ph.D. at University of Turin
Peter Ball, Professor of Operations Management, University of York
Regina Frei, Associate Professor of Digital Economy, University of Surrey, UK
Sinéad Mitchell, Assistant Professor in Sustainability at the University of Galway, Ireland
Stefano Puricelli, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Politecnico di Milano
Paolo Masoni, President of Ecoinnovazione srl
Pierre Navaro Auburtin, PhD candidate, Navier Laboratory - Ponts Paristech, Champs-sur-Marne,
France
Sahar Azarkamand. Postdoctoral Researcher. UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change
ESCI-UPF. Barcelona.Spain
Serena Righi, Associate Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Bologna
Dr Souad Taibi, Assistant Professor, Department of Accounting, Management Control and
Economics, Audencia, Nantes, France
Dr. Stéphane Le Pochat, R&D Manager, EVEA, France
Teo Lavisse, PhD Student, CEA-Liten & GSCOP, France
Vincent Baillet, PhD candidate at GRAPPE, ESA, USC n°1422, INRAE 49007, University of Angers,
France

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Misleading packaging studies: open letter from LCA experts

  • 1. LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT SCIENTISTS URGE EU POLICY MAKERS TO TREAT SOME PACKAGING ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENTS WITH CAUTION To European policy makers, We are writing to urge the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that are presently debating the European Union (EU) Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) to treat the results of some Environmental Impact Assessments with caution. We are particularly worried about some recently published reports on the benefits of single-use packaging which contain methodological flaws meaning that they do not account for the full complexity of environmental impacts. As MEPs enter final negotiations on the PPWR, and as the European Council continues to negotiate the text, we are keen that their decisions be based on scientifically robust assessments. Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) are snapshots of a products’ environmental impacts. Because they are snapshots, their results depend on how they are framed. Small variations in assumptions (rate of return, breakage rate, weight) and incomparable functional units can completely change results and undermine the applicability of an LCA. Particularly important assumptions include the number of reuses; the weight of reusable products; washing; and transport logistics. These variables are not fixed in time and will change as systems of packaging evolve. As a result, the impact of different packaging options will evolve with time. We have seen LCA studies comparing single-use packaging and reuse packaging to demonstrate that single-use is invariably better. Yet while it is straightforward to compare two single-use products which go from cradle to grave in one go, it is more complex for products used multiple times, where it is the business model - not the product - which is evaluated. In such cases, rather than evaluating one scenario (e.g., 20 reuses or 50 km distance for the reuse phase), sensitivity analyses and scenario analyses must be used to determine the break-even point. This is the minimum number of times that a reusable product must be used to be environmentally better (if at all) than an equivalent number of uses of a single-use product. Only these recursive analyses can provide a systemic and comprehensive view. Studies which compare single-use products with reusable options and do not include sensitivity analyses or break-even points are simply inaccurate. We would like to point you to the European Commission Impact Assessment for the PPWR and the UN report on single-use which are comprehensive starting points to assess the environmental impacts of different packaging options. If other LCAs are used to make policy decisions, their methodology must be checked before looking at their results. To guarantee that an LCA is robust, we advise you to check that it:
  • 2. 1. Is a peer-reviewed, independent study conducted using the ISO 14040 and 14044 frameworks. The study should be reviewed by an independent third party or by an independent chaired review panel. 2. Respects steps laid out in ISO standards, starting with clear scope definition and comprehensive description of inventory data. First, the goal and scope definition stage must precisely describe the product studied, the functional unit, the scope of the study, the assumptions made for each life cycle stage, and the methodology used to calculate impacts. Second, the inventory stage must describe and quantify the inputs and outputs involved in the life cycle of the system studied. Third, the LCA impact stage assesses the potential environmental impacts by converting the inventory data into specific impact indicators. It can involve different methods which must be specified. Fourth, the interpretation stage has as final aim the formulation of recommendations to improve the environmental performance of the system under study. We would like to emphasize that access to the goal and scope definition and the inventory data (stages 1 and 2) is a non-negotiable prerequisite to validity. This is because even a small variation in the methodological parameters or the inventory can significantly alter results. 3. Assesses the highest possible number of environmental indicators. The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF 3.1) method includes 16 mid-point impact categories (e.g. climate change, water resource depletion, land use transformation, human toxicity…). The ReCiPe LCA model includes 18 midpoint impact categories. Any exclusion of an indicator must be thoroughly justified. 4. Includes the full life-cycle of the product reviewed, from cradle to grave. Both upstream impacts (e.g. material production) and downstream impacts (e.g. recycling or incineration) must be assessed. 5. Includes clear hypotheses and assumptions on breakage rate, return (trip) rate, weight and end of life strategies (including recycling performance, quality of the recyclate, waste-to-energy, and repurpose) both for single-use and reusable packaging. 6. If assumptions or lower quality data on parameters have been used, performs a sensitivity analysis and discloses the source of such data. The conclusion of this sensitivity analysis should be included in the study, to ensure that the implications of using poor quality data are transparent. 7. Considers different business model configurations for the use and end of life phases, alongside clear sensitivity analyses. 8. Integrates static comparisons with dynamic ones such as the evaluation of the environmental break-even points. Any report which assesses environmental impacts without transparency of data, a peer-review process or respect for established frameworks cannot be considered a good environmental impact assessment and so caution should be exercised when considering the results and recommendations.
  • 3. If you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to get in touch. Signatories: Alba Bala Gala, Researcher UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF, Barcelona, Spain. Dario Cottafava, researcher at the University of Turin, Department of Economics and Statistics "Cognetti de Martiis" Ilija Sazdovski, Researcher, UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF, Barcelona, Spain. Joana Beigbeder, Associate Professor, IMT Mines Alès, France Lucia Rigamonti, Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Politecnico di Milano Paul Refalo, Senior Lecturer, Department of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, University of Malta Tom Ligthart, Senior scientist sustainability assessment in the Expertise Group for Climate, Air and Sustainability, TNO Agata Matarazzo, Associate Professor, University of Catania Anders Damgaard, Associate Professor at the Technical University of Denmark. Anna Maria Ferrari, Dipartimento di Scienze e Metodi dell'Ingegneria, Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia Prof Anna Mazzi, Associate Professor at University of Padova, Department of Industrial Engineering Prof. Anne Ventura, research director at Material and Structure Department, University Gustave Eiffel, Nantes, France Antonin Pépin, Researcher, INRAE, Mixed Research Unit SAS, Rennes, France Carlo Proserpio, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano Dr. Christel Renaud-Gentié, associate professor, GRAPPE, ESA, USC n°1422, INRAE 49007, Angers, France
  • 4. Ciprian Cimpan, Faculty of Engineering, University of Southern Denmark Life Cycle Engineering Cristina Campos Herrero. Pre-doctoral Researcher UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF. Barcelona.Spain Daniele Cespi, Dipartimento di Chimica Industriale, Università di Bologna Eleni Iacovidou, Division of Environmental Sciences, Department of Life Sciences, College of Health, Medicing and Life Sciences, Brunel University London, UK Erwin Rauch, Professor for Sustainable Manufacturing, Free University of Bolzano Estefania Sanabria Garcia, Research Group Sustainable Systems Engineering (STEN), Department Green Chemistry and Technology, Faculty of, Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University Federico Cuomo, Department of Management Engineering of the Polytechnic of Milan Federico Sisani, TREE Srl - Università di Perugia Gaia Brussa, Researcher at AWARE- Assessment on WAste and REsources, Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile e Ambientale (DICA), Politecnico di Milano Giulia Cavenage, Researcher at Politecnico di Milano, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Giulia Sonetti, CENSE - Center for Environmental and Sustainability Research Giuseppe Cecere, Research assistant, Assessment on Waste and Resources research group, Politecnico di Milano Dr. Guillaume Junqua, Associate Professor, IMT Mines Alès, France Guillermo Casasnovas, Assistant Professor at Esade Center for Social Impact Hazem Eltohamy, Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden University, The Netherlands Hugo Henrique de Simone Souza, Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil (UFMS) Irene Taradellas, Manager, Impact Hub Barcelona Jacopo Famiglietti, Department of Energy, Politecnico di Milano Joost Duflou, Departement Werktuigkunde, KU Leuven Joseph Kimaro, Department of Business and Law, Southampton Solent University, Southampton, UK Laura Corazza, Assistant Professor at the University of Turin, Department of Management
  • 5. Lela Mélon, Professor of Sustainability in Business Law, Faculty of Law, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain. Ligia da Silva Lima, Research Group Sustainable Systems Engineering (STEN), Department of Green Chemistry and Technology, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Marco Cervino, Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (CNR-ISAC), LCA working group at UNIMORE-DISMI Mario Grosso, Environmental Section, Politecnico di Milano Matteo Vincenzo Rocco, Matteo Vincenzo Rocco, Associate Professor, Politecnico di Milano Michel André, Senior Scientist at Components and Systems Research Department, Gustave Eiffel University, France Michael S. Corson, Researcher, INRAE, Mixed Research Unit SAS, Rennes, France Miguel Lopez-Ferber, Professor in Environmental Sciences. IMT Mines Alès Monia Niero, Associate professor, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies Nadia Lambiase, CEO at Mercato Circolare & Ph.D. at University of Turin Peter Ball, Professor of Operations Management, University of York Regina Frei, Associate Professor of Digital Economy, University of Surrey, UK Sinéad Mitchell, Assistant Professor in Sustainability at the University of Galway, Ireland Stefano Puricelli, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Politecnico di Milano Paolo Masoni, President of Ecoinnovazione srl Pierre Navaro Auburtin, PhD candidate, Navier Laboratory - Ponts Paristech, Champs-sur-Marne, France Sahar Azarkamand. Postdoctoral Researcher. UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF. Barcelona.Spain Serena Righi, Associate Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Bologna Dr Souad Taibi, Assistant Professor, Department of Accounting, Management Control and Economics, Audencia, Nantes, France Dr. Stéphane Le Pochat, R&D Manager, EVEA, France Teo Lavisse, PhD Student, CEA-Liten & GSCOP, France
  • 6. Vincent Baillet, PhD candidate at GRAPPE, ESA, USC n°1422, INRAE 49007, University of Angers, France