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LCA study of unconsumed food and the influence of consumer behavior

: Gruber, Lisa Marie; Brandstetter, Christian Peter; Bos, Ulrike; Lindner, Jan Paul; Albrecht, Stefan


International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 21 (2016), No.5, pp.773-784
ISSN: 0948-3349
ISSN: 1614-7502
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IBP ()

In the light of anthropogenic resource depletion and the resulting influences on the greenhouse effect as well as globally occurring famine, food waste has garnered increased public interest in recent years. The aim of this study is to analyze the environmental impacts of food waste and to determine to what extent consumers' behavior influences the environmental burden of food consumption in households.
A life cycle assessment (LCA) study of three food products is conducted, following the ISO 14040/44 life cycle assessment guidelines. This study addresses the impact categories climate change (GWP100), eutrophication (EP), and acidification (AP). Primary energy demand (PED) is also calculated. For adequate representation of consumer behavior, scenarios based on various consumer types are generated in the customer stage. The customer stage includes the food-related activities: shopping, storage, preparation, and disposal of food products as well as the disposal of the sales packaging.
Results and discussion:
If the consumer acts careless towards the environment, the customer stage appears as the main hotspot in the LCA of food products. The environmental impact of food products can be reduced in the customer stage by an environmentally conscious consumer. Shopping has the highest effect on the evaluated impact categories and the PED. Additionally, consumers can reduce the resulting emissions by decreasing the electric energy demand, particularly concerning food storage or preparation. Moreover, results show that the avoidance of wasting unconsumed food can reduce the environmental impact significantly.
Results of this study show that the influence of consumer behavior on the LCA results is important. The customer stage of food products should not be overlooked in LCA studies. To enable comparison among results of other LCA studies, the LCA community needs to develop a common methodology for modeling consumer behavior.