LCA Case: transport packaging

Since there is an ongoing debate on the environmental aspects of re-usable crates versus paper board boxes in The Netherlands since 1990, a calculation is given on the transport of fresh fruit and vegetables from a Dutch greenhouse to a German retail shop. Two Packaging systems are compared:
- solid board boxes (made from recycled paper)
- re-usable plastic crates (made of High Density Polyethylene, HDPE).

From a environmental perspective the analyses show that:
- for long-distance transport, the eco-costs of the corrugated board systems are lower
- for distribution inside The Netherlands (short-distant transport), the eco-costs of the re-usable crate systems seem to be break-even with corrugated board boxes
- plastic crates for fresh fruit and vegetables should be designed for maximum relative volume content (instead of minimum materials for the crate) to optimize the use of the transport system
- for 'short distance & high volume' applications, an attempt should be made to design the system of solid board boxes for two or three round trips per box .Note: the board boxes should be made interstackable with the plastic crates

This 'rigorous LCA' case has been calculated by means of a computer program (1999, Brandjes, Technical University of Delft, Logistics), see Thesis Chapter 6. This LCA was revised in 2004 on request of the FEFCO (European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers), applying the latest LCI data on several types of board (FEFCO report).

Since the transport of goods is a service (rather that a tangible product), this calculation has three interesting aspects of the LCA, see Fig. 6.1a :
1. the definition of the "functional unit", see tab LCA
2. "from cradle to grave" seems to be harder to define (as it is for all services)
3. a proper method for (economic) allocation of the partly used supporting systems appears to be the key on how to succeed

The "cradle to grave" definition for services is a bit harder than it is for tangible products: it is obvious that a service has an end when it is completed, but that is not what we mean with "from cradle to grave". The solution is that we must apply the concept of "from cradle to grave" to all supporting systems (in this case: trucks+trailers, warehouses, forklift trucks, roads, etc.).
Allocation of eco-burden of the supporting systems to the specific service is an essential aspect of the LCA calculation, since services are characterised by partly use their supporting systems. The supporting systems are used by a variety of other services (in this case other freight). Therefore, economic allocation (see tab LCA) is the only practical way to avoid unrealistic assumptions or uncertainties.

The 'functional unit' (the end-result of the LCA) is neither the eco-burden per crate or box, nor the eco-burden per volume of contained goods, but the eco-burden of the volume of goods transported over a certain distance (in this case 500 km).

The analysis starts with the calculation of the eco-costs per volume (litres) of the box and the crate (per trip). See Fig. 6.1b . Since a crate has 30 round-trips on average, 1/30 of the eco-costs of a crate are allocated to one trip.
Note: the eco-costs are from a rigorous LCA calculation, but are also given in the excel file of the tabecocosts 2007 LCA data .

The next step of the analyses is to extend the LCA with the transport of the goods (500 km transport). This transport involves a truck+trailer, warehouses, forklift trucks, etc. Fig. 6.1c shows the eco-costs of the truck+trailer in terms of volume per trip. The issue is here the load of the trailer at the return trip:
- Full (of empty crates) in the crate system.
- Partly filled with other freight in the case of the box system (the empty boxes are collected in the wastepaper system of Germany). Therefore, part of the eco-costs of the return trip is allocated to that other freight (economic allocation).

The eco-costs of the feeding and distribution systems (warehouses, forklift trucks, truck+trailers for feeding and distribution operations) have been calculated as well, applying the same calculation methods (see the Thesis or the FEFCO report).
The result of the total transport chain is depicted in Fig. 6.1d .

Note that a shortcut of the complex calculations is enabled by applying EVR data from the ecocosts 2007 excel file, when the costs of subsystems are available:
- the EVR of crates and boxes is 0,13 - 0,16 (€/€)
- the EVR of long distance transport is 0,55 - 0,60 (€/€) (for the primary direction = the direction with the most volume)

Literature: see under tab data, reference 1.0 and 1.9.