Posted on Mon 25 September 2023 in Projects

Aims and Objectives

EAT-Packaging will apply cutting-edge life cycle thinking and value chain analysis, in combination with stakeholder engagement, to review the potential deployment of edible packaging in terms of environmental sustainability and techno-economic feasibility.

The project will address the following objectives: - Review the state-of-the-art regarding edible packaging use in Ireland and internationally. - Evaluate the lifecycle environmental performance of edible packaging production and use compared with conventional packaging production, use, and disposal. - Identify barriers, enablers, and data gaps pertaining to best-practice edible packaging deployment in Ireland.


Packaging that is designed to be eaten is one of the packaging innovations being developed to reduce waste streams and support the transition towards a circular and climate-neutral economy. Edible packaging comes in the form of edible films or coatings around food products, potentially avoiding typical post-consumer end-of-life management (recycling, incineration, or landfill). Due to edible packaging being developed from bio-based materials, the packaging also reduces the dependency on fossil fuels and supports the development of a circular bioeconomy.


The European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy suggests that innovative materials and alternative feedstocks for plastic production should be developed and used where evidence clearly shows that they are more sustainable compared with petrochemical plastics (European Commission, 2018). There is thus an urgent need for comprehensive and appropriately designed studies to provide clear evidence on the environmental sustainability of edible packaging options, and how they benchmark against conventional packaging options – in particular plastics and cardboard, which are widely used in packaging and potentially substitutable with edible films.

Life cycle assessment is a method of quantifying the environmental impacts arising over the entire value chain of a product or service, from "cradle-to-grave" (ISO, 2006a, 2006b). However, recent reviews (Spierling et al., 2019; Bishop et al., 2021) found that the application of LCA to bioplastic innovations has been patchy and often incomplete, leading to potentially misleading conclusions.

To account for the global net effects of edible packaging arising from factors such as feedstock (crop) cultivation, potential indirect land-use change, and avoided emissions due to substituted production and avoided end-of-life processes, EAT-Packaging will apply a consequential LCA approach. Consequential LCA models are prospective as they aim to model the consequences of future decisions and involve expanded system boundaries to account for marginal effects of system modifications induced via economic signals throughout the wider economy.

Recent studies have highlighted the need for more future-oriented analysis (Buyle et al., 2019; Forster et al., 2021), going beyond the use of existing life cycle inventory databases such as Ecoinvent to represent, inter alia, projected marginal energy sources and counterfactual waste management options which are rapidly evolving in response to technological advancements, policy steer, and market signals (Styles et al., in review).

Such analyses can help to understand whether the evaluated technology(ies) will contribute to environmental sustainability in the long term, in the context of a climate-neutral and circular economy (Forster et al., 2021). Marginal improvement in environmental performance vis-à-vis existing technologies and practices is not in itself sufficient to comply with absolute sustainability thresholds represented by e.g. planetary boundaries (Steffen et al., 2015) and climate neutrality (IPCC, 2019) targets.

Thus, EAT-Packaging will employ state-of-the-art consequential LCA based on models developed for recent research outputs (Bishop et al., accepted subject to minor revision; Forster et al., 2021) to evaluate holistic environmental impacts arising over multiple edible packaging value chains. System boundaries will consider potential indirect impacts such as land-use change pressure and waste stream diversion from various (statistically representative) end-of-life fates (Fig. 1).

Appropriate substitutions of conventional packaging, including petrochemical and bio-based plastics (Fig. 1), and cardboard, will be considered (glass bottles and aluminium cans may also be considered if deemed relevant during scenario development).

The environmental outcome of bio-based packaging deployment critically depends on interaction with consumer behavior, which will determine whether, for example, biodegradable packaging is placed in the relevant separate collection bin (Bishop et al., 2021). Continuous stakeholder engagement, seeded with two workshops, will be crucial to gather data and insight from expert stakeholders on promising edible packaging products, value chains, and deployment options so that plausible and informative scenarios can be developed for assessment.

Issues such as current and potential future feedstocks, substituted packaging materials, possible consequences for product longevity, and economic, behavioral, or regulatory barriers or enablers will also be explored during two stakeholder workshops. These workshops will be used to raise the profile of EAT-Packaging and to raise awareness of the potential opportunities associated with the edible packaging value chains that will be assessed from the review and from the LCA modelling.

PI, David Styles, has considerable experience convening expert workshops while developing EU sectoral best-practice documents on environmental management in the Joint Research Centre (Schoenberger et al., 2012; Styles et al, 2014; Galvez-Martos et al., xxx). Where primary data cannot be obtained directly from the industry owing to e.g. commercial sensitivities, contingencies will be put in place to utilize secondary data (see section C2).

Discerning management of uncertainties and sensitivities will be crucial to ensure robust modelling and appropriate messaging. The PI’s research group has extensive experience in the application of relevant statistical techniques and judicious employment of pertinent sensitivity analyses to support robust conclusions, even where major activities or processes are highly uncertain, e.g., prospective marginal energy-generating and waste management technologies (Bishop et al., accepted; Forster et al., 2021).

Rigorous environmental and techno-economic assessment will provide the backbone of the EAT-Packaging project, constructively focusing stakeholder engagement on technical aspects of implementation and modelling while contributing to a major knowledge gap on the environmental sustainability of such packaging. Particularly important findings will be summarized in a Policy Brief for policymakers, with a roadmap for edible packaging deployment in Ireland contained in the final project report.

Social media, open-access scientific articles, and the popular press will be leveraged to disseminate key findings as widely as possible, including to the general public. Ultimately, owing to the novelty of the topic, it is anticipated that scenario scoping, in particular, will identify many further avenues for future deployment and research, along with key gaps in knowledge, so that EAT-Packaging will generate as many new questions as it answers – providing a strong platform to inform strategic R&D investment.


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