The important questions manufacturers and engineers are asking is whether or not waste minimization, prevention and elimination can be designed or built in during manufacturing process. Life cycle analysis (LCA) considers the potential impacts from all stages of manufacturing process. Packaging as a focus of LCA applications uses the concept of quantification of material, energy and the environmental consequences as viewed over its entire life cycle. The aim of this study was to evaluate a packaging design for strawberry through a life cycle analysis by comparison of a conventional packaging material (polyethylene terephthalate, PET) with a biodegradable material (polylactic acid, PLA) for the primary packaging of fresh strawberry. The process considered the extraction of the raw material for the two polymers, the processes of their resin production, container formation, followed by their end-of-life disposal. All the inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and seed corn required for the growing and harvesting of corn used for manufacturing PLA or the extraction of crude oil and the entire cracking processes from crude oil through styrene, ethylene glycol and terephathalic acid for PET were considered. The global warming, acidification, ozone depletion, aquatic eutrophication, respiratory organics, respiratory inorganics, aquatic ecotoxicity, non-renewable energy and land occupation, were the selected midpoint impact categories.
PET showed the highest overall values for all the impact categories, mainly due to the higher weight of the containers. The main impacts to the environment were the resin production and the transportation stage of the resins and containers. This implies that the transportation stage of the package is an important contributor to the environmental impact of the packaging systems. As material for packaging of strawberry and in comparison to PET, PLA was found to be a superior packaging material, based on the parallel and comparative LCA analysis of both materials.