Eco-score: life cycle analysis (LCA)
If we want to calculate the Eco-score of a food product, we largely rely on the life cycle analysis (LCA) of the product category. It investigates the phases a food product from a certain category goes through. Discover everything you need to know about the life cycle analysis here. Or listen to what Bartel Van Riet has to say about it.
Analysing a product’s life cycle
For the life cycle analysis the impact on the sixteen categories below is investigated for each of the six phases:
1. Depletion of the ozone layer
The ozone layer in the stratosphere absorbs the sun’s harmful UV radiation. The thinning of the ozone layer by certain substances has dangerous consequences for humans (e.g. skin cancer) and other organisms.
2. Eco-toxicity of freshwater
Eco-toxicity refers to the potential toxic effects of certain substances on ecosystems.
3. Soil eutrophication
Due to an excess of nutrients in the soil, specific plants grow faster, to the detriment of the original ecosystem.
4. Salt water eutrophication
Due to an excess of nutrients in the sea, algae and other specific plants grow faster, to the detriment of the original ecosystem.
5. Freshwater eutrophication
Due to an excess of nutrients in freshwater, algae and specific plants grow faster, to the detriment of the original ecosystem.
6. Particulate matter
Particulate matter and other inorganic substances can get into people’s lungs where they can have harmful effects.
7. Photochemical ozone formation
While ozone in the stratosphere protects us, ozone on the ground (in the troposphere) is harmful: it affects organic compounds in animals and plants. Photochemical smog (summer smog) can cause respiratory problems.
8. Use of fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are non-renewable resources. If we consume them in large quantities, there will be none left for future generations.
9. Use of raw materials: minerals and metals
Minerals and metals are non-renewable resources. If we consume them in large quantities, there will be none left for future generations.
10. Ionising radiation
Exposure to ionising radiation (radioactivity) may have harmful effects on human health.
11. Climate change
Due to the increase in the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the earth’s temperature is rising and the climate is changing.
12. Land use
The use and transformation of land for agriculture, roads, mining and other purposes can lead to soil erosion, lack of organic matter in the soil and loss of biodiversity.
13. Toxic to humans: carcinogenic
Absorbing certain substances through the air, water or soil can have toxic, carcinogenic effects on humans.
14. Toxic to humans: non-carcinogenic
Absorbing certain substances through the air, water or soil can have toxic, non-carcinogenic effects on humans.
Emissions to air, water and soil can cause acidification. Acidification contributes to a decline in coniferous forests and an increase in fish mortality.
16. Water consumption
Withdrawing water from lakes, rivers or groundwater can lead to water scarcity.
Results of the life cycle analyses
The results of a life cycle analysis show the environmental impact per kilogram produced and consumed. They are not calculated at product level, but per product category. For biscuits with chocolate, for example.
And where can you find the results of the life cycle analyses? For many product categories results are available in the French Agribalyse database. It will take a while before a database with specific data for Belgium will become available.
However, the Agribalyse life cycle analyses do not take into account some factors.
- Certain essential negative effects, for example, the influence of the use of pesticides, antibiotics and anti-parasitic agents on soil richness or biodiversity.
- The positive impact of, for example, organic or extensive production on animal welfare or landscapes (fields, mountain pastures, hedgerows, etc.).
- The distinction between production and agricultural methods. As a result, some foods from conventional agriculture score better in life cycle analyses than alternatives from organic agriculture, which often has lower yields.
These factors are included in the Eco-score by means of the extra criteria in the bonus-malus system.