Food Engineering
TECH FLASH

Lifecycle assessment sizes up environmental impacts of products

May 9, 2012
Kraft YES Pack
Kraft’s YES pack salad dressing uses 60 percent less plastic than the previous container. Source: Kraft.

Kraft Foods is using lifecycle assessment (LCA) to help it make the right changes and get the best results in new product and packaging design. LCA measures the footprint of what goes into making a product, from farm to fork and beyond.

“Lifecycle assessment is an important part of our sustainability journey,” says Roger Zellner, sustainability director for research, development & quality. “It gives us a competitive advantage, as we now have more insight into how to reduce our products’ footprints, find efficiencies and validate and explain those benefits to customers and consumers. Together, we’re focusing and working smarter and communicating better, which is good for the environment, people and our business.”

This LCA work builds on the multi-year footprinting project Kraft Foods recently used to map its impact on climate change, land and water use. Today, employees around the world are using lifecycle thinking to help uncover ways to eliminate waste in manufacturing. This can reduce the amount of raw materials, such as agricultural commodities, used at the beginning of the supply chain. LCA also can help measure how product and packaging innovations improve on previous designs, and provide a common system to measure and explain those benefits.

For example, in the US, the Kraft YES Pack salad dressing team used LCA to confirm their design has a reduced environmental impact, using 60 percent less plastic packaging than the previous container. In the UK, the Kenco coffee team used LCA to confirm its new Eco-Refill package delivers a 70 percent savings in the packaging’s carbon impact footprint compared to its glass counterpart. And in Europe, the Tassimo single-serve beverage team’s LCA showed it could reduce the carbon footprint of each T Disc beverage ingredient package by about 20 percent when upcycling them with partner TerraCycle and diverting them from landfills.

Kraft Kenco coffee
The UK’s Kenco coffee’s Eco-Refill container delivers less carbon impact than the previous glass container. Source: Kraft.

At the heart of Kraft Foods’ reductions in packaging is its Eco-Calculator. This proprietary tool helps packaging designers create more efficient, sustainable solutions based on data from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Energy and packaging industry groups.

The Eco-Calculator figures the percentage of post-consumer recycled material in a given package design, along with the amount of energy and carbon dioxide emissions required to create the package. It also tells packaging designers how efficiently they’re using materials and how well their designs will fit a product’s physical dimensions. The tool is used along with other business practices, like economic assessments and ability to manufacture, before a final design is selected.