`Finding Where One Umbrian Producer Leaves the Biggest Footprint

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Finding Where One Umbrian Producer Leaves the Biggest Footprint

Oct. 17, 2014
Sukhsatej Batra

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Trans­port to the end con­sumer was the major con­trib­u­tor of green­house gases and con­sumed the most energy in a case study of the pro­duc­tion and sup­ply chain of extra vir­gin olive oil. Researchers from the CRB Bio­mass Research Cen­ter in Peru­gia, Italy, reported these find­ings after assess­ing the cra­dle to grave impact” of olive oil pro­duc­tion in Umbria.

For their study, which was pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence for the Total Envi­ron­ment, the researchers fol­lowed a sys­tem­atic approach to eval­u­ate the envi­ron­men­tal impact of EVOO pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion. The life cycle assess­ment started with cul­ti­va­tion of olive trees in the Umbria region of Italy, extrac­tion and stor­age of extra vir­gin olive oil; pack­ag­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion to the end cus­tomer; and dis­posal of empty bot­tles after con­sump­tion.

While the researchers sur­mised that the mill they ana­lyzed was rep­re­sen­ta­tive of small to medium size farm plants,” there were three prac­tices among the var­i­ous stages of pro­duc­tion that would not be con­sid­ered stan­dard to many pro­duc­ers: The pro­ducer they stud­ied kept oils stored frozen, bot­tled the EVOO in sin­gle-dose 10ml glass vials, and shipped the prod­ucts by air.

Our car­bon foot­print analy­sis referred to a spe­cific case study of the EVOO pro­ducer,” said Elisa Lass­caro, an author of the study, and con­sid­ered the pri­mary data accord­ing to the pro­duc­tion chain of that com­pany,”

The researchers found that fer­til­iza­tion of olive trees with large amounts of nitro­gen fer­til­iz­ers and the use of farm equip­ment to har­vest olives con­tributed greatly towards green­house gas pro­duc­tion and energy con­sump­tion in the ini­tial stage of EVOO pro­duc­tion.

Elisa Las­caro, Uni­ver­sity of Peru­gia Engi­neer­ing Deprt­men­t’s Bio­mass Research Cen­ter

Dur­ing the sec­ond stage, the researchers found, elec­tric­ity used to man­u­fac­ture glass bot­tles for pack­ag­ing olive oil and fuel used to trans­port the bot­tles to the mill added to the emis­sion of green­house gases and energy use in the third stage of EVOO pro­duc­tion.

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Elec­tric­ity for freez­ing extra vir­gin olive oil, and leak­age of refrig­er­ant dur­ing freez­ing were the two steps that pro­duced con­sid­er­able amounts of green­house gases and used con­sid­er­able amounts of energy.

The researchers said freez­ing oil that was des­tined for for­eign mar­kets was gain­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, after another study found extra vir­gin olive oil that had been frozen prior to trans­port retained more of its phe­nols and the organolep­tic qual­i­ties through­out its shelf life, when com­pared to oil that had not been frozen.

In the final stage, trans­port­ing EVOO from Italy to the end con­sumer in the United States by air, pro­duced the most green­house gases. The car­bon and energy foot­prints was sub­stan­tially higher than when ship­ping EVOO to Japan by sea or by road to other Euro­pean coun­tries.

The EPA states that increased pro­duc­tion of green­house gases — car­bon diox­ide, methane, nitrous oxide, and flu­o­ri­nated gases — which started with the indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion in the 1700s, is the major cause of cli­mate change. The impact of cli­mate change is wide­spread and has resulted in global warm­ing, increased the occur­rence of nat­ural dis­as­ters, and caused glac­i­ers to melt at alarm­ing rates.

Cli­mate change also affects human health in a num­ber of ways. It is known to increase the risk of res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease due to poor air qual­ity and cause unex­pected deaths from car­dio­vas­cu­lar and res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases in the elderly due to extreme heat. If left unchecked, cli­mate change may even alter pat­terns of infec­tious dis­eases such as malaria and dengue, accord­ing to the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion.

Although there is global aware­ness of the daunt­ing effects of cli­mate change and many sec­tors are mak­ing efforts to reduce pro­duc­tion of green­house gases, in April 2014 the FAO reported that emis­sion of green­house gases from agri­cul­tural sources increased by 14 per­cent from 2001 to 2011.

To reduce the car­bon foot­print and energy foot­print of the olive oil indus­try, the authors sug­gest ship­ping extra vir­gin olive oil to the United States in con­tainer ships instead of by air. Other steps that can help reduce green­house gas pro­duc­tion by the olive oil indus­try is the use of biodiesel made from waste veg­etable oil for oper­at­ing farm machin­ery for har­vest­ing and trans­port­ing olives from farms to mills.

Reduc­ing the weight of glass bot­tles used for pack­ag­ing extra vir­gin olive oil would reduce the amount of elec­tric­ity used and also reduce pro­duc­tion of green­house gases. While use of elec­tric­ity for freez­ing and main­tain­ing fresh­ness of EVOO might be worth­while, replac­ing refrig­er­ant cool­ing agent R407A with low-impact agents could be another step toward reduc­ing the car­bon and energy foot­print in the life cycle of EVOO pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion.


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