The aim of this study is to carry out a comparative analysis of the environmental impact of different packaging systems used for extended shelf life milk. The analysis, carried out exploiting the life cycle assessment approach, takes into account the packaging manufacturing process, the food packaging process, the transport phases and the end-of-life management of the different packaging systems. The packaging end of-life is modelled by considering three possible options, such as recycling, thermo-valorization with energy recovery and landfill. One litre of extended shelf life milk is used as the reference unit, while multilayer cartons, polyethylene terephthalate bottles labelled with shrink sleeve film and high-density polyethylene bottles are analysed as the packaging types. The key characteristics of each component of the three packaging systems were either provided by packaging manufacturers or derived from data available in literature. The evaluation of the end-of-life impact was performed considering the Italian scenario, exploiting, in particular, the data provided by specific Italian consortia. Other data for the inventory analysis phase were extrapolated from the SimaPro databases (e.g. Ecoinvent or Plastic Europe Database). Cumulative energy demand and CML2001 were adopted as the impact assessment methods. The results obtained show that the multilayer carton system is the less environmentally impactful option for almost all the considered impact categories and that its environmental impacts are, on average, more than 12% lower than high-density polyethylene system and more than 34% lower than polyethylene terephthalate with shrink sleeve label.
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