In an article published on December 12, 2018, Alexi Ernstoff and colleagues from the Quantitative Sustainability Assessment Division, Department of Management Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Lyngby, Denmark, explored “the research needs for extending life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) to include exposure to chemicals in food packaging.” This development is necessary because “limiting exposure to potentially toxic chemicals in food packaging can lead to environmental impact trade-offs,” but so far no tools exist that would allow considering such trade-offs in an LCIA.

The scientists proposed to extend the LCIA framework for human toxicity “to include consumer exposure to chemicals in food packaging through the product intake fraction (PiF) metric.” They probed the developed method on a case study with a “high impact polystyrene (HIPS) container . . . with the functional unit of providing 1 kg of yogurt in single servings.” The exposure scenarios considered included “an evidence-based scenario using concentration data and a migration model.” Human toxicity impact scores calculated with this modified method were then compared to those calculated using a conventional LCIA methodology.”

The developed method requires data on “the initial concentration of chemicals in food packaging, chemical mass transfer from packaging into food, and relevant toxicity information.” However, data that were available “allowed toxicity characterization of use stage exposure to only seven chemicals in HIPS out of 44 identified.” For these seven chemicals, the combined human toxicity impact scores “for HIPS material acquisition, manufacturing, and disposal stages exceeded the toxicity scores related to consumer exposure . . . by about two orders of magnitude.” The toxicity scores associated with consumer exposure only “became relevant when migration was above 0.1% of the European regulatory levels.” The authors summarized that their “results emphasize missing data for chemical concentrations in food contact materials and a need to expand the current USEtox method for effect factor derivation (e.g., to consider endocrine disruption, mixture toxicity, background exposure, and thresholds when relevant)” because this “could improve the interpretation of human toxicity impact scores.”


Ernstoff, A., et al. (2018). “Challenges of including human exposure to chemicals in food packaging as a new exposure pathway in life cycle impact assessment.” The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment (published December 12, 2018).