Zero Waste within the food sector and an evaluation of the package-free distribution of two different food products
Abstract: This study investigates the zero-waste concept applied to the food industry, and how the environmental impact differs between a package-free scenario found at a specialised Danish retail-store and a conventional scenario, using two reference products typically found in normal retail stores in Sweden. In the Danish store, the oats are sold in gravity dispensers, and the rapeseed oil is sold in glass bottles intended to be brought back to the store by the consumer to be cleaned and reused. Based on previous literature – both in regards to the zero-waste concept and about packaging logistics within the food sector – a zero-waste framework is presented intended to be used by the practitioners. The purpose of the framework is to give general guidance to anyone aiming to offer products according to the zero-waste principles, making sure that the products and their distribution are designed in a way that ensures zero-waste across every parameter that exists. This shall hopefully mitigate the risk that stores employ a zero-waste model but generates more waste, as they for instance reduce packaging material but in turn increase food waste generation or creates very long and inefficient transportation. Then, a life cycle assessment of rolled oats and rapeseed oil is performed, evaluating the package-free model found at the Danish retail store to the conventional scenario found in Sweden. The results for oats show that even if package-free stores offer disposable paper bags in the store – much like the system with plastic bags at the vegetable department in most stores – the savings across most impact categories are still large. The margin for how much food waste increase would be tolerated given the savings is calculated, differing between about 1% for eutrophication and acidification to 8% for climate change. For rapeseed oil, the potential savings are not as high as for oats, and they are bound to how many times the glass bottle is reused. If the concept were to be scaled up and the cleaning of the glass bottle centralised, the total distance between the store and the cleaning facility should not extend 400 kilometres, as that makes the conventional model preferable in all categories except for freshwater eutrophication. In practise, it is advisable that the distance does not exceed 100 kilometres to motivate the shift, as the savings otherwise are small.
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