In light of the debate on the circular economy, the EU strategy for plastics, and several national regulations, such as the German Packaging Act, polymeric foam materials as well as hybrid packaging (multilayered plastic) are now in focus. To understand the environmental impacts of various tray solutions for meat packaging, a comparative environmental assessment was conducted. As an environmental assessment method, a life cycle assessment (LCA) was applied following the ISO standards 14040/44. The nine packaging solutions investigated were: PS-based trays (extruded polystyrene and extruded polystyrene with five-layered structure containing ethylene vinyl alcohol), PET-based trays (recycled polyethylene terephthalate, with and without polyethylene layer, and amorphous polyethylene terephthalate), polypropylene (PP) and polylactic acid (PLA). The scope of the LCA study included the production of the tray and the end-of-life stage. The production of meat, the filling of the tray with meat and the tray sealing were not taken into account. The results show that the PS-based trays, especially the mono material solutions made of extruded polystyrene (XPS), show the lowest environmental impact across all 12 impact categories except for resource depletion. Multilayer products exhibit higher environmental impacts. The LCA also shows that the end-of-life stage has an important influence on the environmental performance of trays. However, the production of the trays dominates the overall results. Furthermore, the sensitivity analysis illustrates that, even if higher recycling rates were realised in the future, XPS based solutions would still outperform the rest from an environmental perspective.
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