Life Cycle assessment (LCA) can be described as one of the most vital and essential methods of analyzing and assessing the general environmental effects and impacts of merchandise, services, produce, products, good or processes. It is actually in other words referred to as Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and it really evaluates and reviews the environmental effects of a product from the time of production, process or procedure from plan and design to the time of disposal. In addition, LCA reviews the whole life cycle of a product or process and it involves the collection and assemblage of data, the evaluation and appraisal of quantitative data especially considering the inputs and outputs of materials and other substances, energy used and other waste materials related to the production of these products. In other words, LCA entails: The extraction of the necessary raw materials; the process of manufacturing or just the processing of these raw materials; the transportation and the overall distribution of the product to the customers or consumers and finally the discarding or the dumping of the waste materials and the recycling or recovery of the product past its useful and essential life.
Spain and the United Kingdom are arguably one of the main producers of strawberry in Europe. It is very important to note that availability of strawberries in the UK is dependent on the season that is; during winter, autumn and spring, strawberry is abundant in the local supermarkets because it is locally produced by small scale farmers who mainly rely on rainfall to grow the berries. On the contrary, summer seasons is faced with inadequacy or total unavailability of the berries in the supermarkets which necessitates importation from Spain who produce the berries annually across all seasons (Harris, Davis and Mitchman, 2007). Some of the reasons why Spain produces more berries across all the seasons are may be due to the large scale use of polytunnels in the growing of strawberries as compared to UK who depend on rainfall and the growing of the Ever bearers in Spain as compared to the growing of June bearers in the UK. Although the growing and use of June bearers is convenient in regard to the environmental factors found in the UK, it is also more advisable and convenient to import other varieties from countries like Spain to supplement for the inadequacy during summer. In addition, importation of strawberries is more convenient and environmental friendly for example, in Spain strawberries are grown using the sun while in the UK they are grown sometimes using heated greenhouses (Davidson & Jaine, 2006).
Goal and Scope
This paper encompasses a Life Cycle Analysis of strawberries from production, processing, distribution to the consumer to disposal. It also critically evaluates the Life Cycle Inventory of strawberry production which entails the inputs and outputs. This inputs and outputs include both the raw materials involved and the energy utilized and also released during the process. Additionally, this paper discusses the environmental impacts of the growth and processing of strawberries. On the other hand, the scope of this paper entails the discussion of the functions and uses of strawberries as raw materials in the processing, packaging, transport and disposal of strawberry products. The paper also lightly covers the process of growing of strawberries using the tunnel method with polythene mulching.
Strawberries are actually sweet tasty fruits with a pleasant aroma which are rich in vitamin C and iron and are consumed while fresh. On the other hand, strawberries can be used as raw materials used in the processing of Jam and other syrups as the products. The system boundaries of this paper are limited to discussions of how strawberries are actually produced or grown. The paper also does not touch on the various different types of berries grown and also the various methods used for growing of strawberries (Harris, Davis and Mitchman, 2007). Other raw materials used include pectin extracted from other fruits like lemon and other citrus fruits.
Life Cycle Inventory Analysis
The process of growing of strawberries involves the use of the following raw materials and energy as inputs: First the use of chemical energy in the form of fertilizers which includes nitrogen and potassium fertilizers for example, P2O5 and K2O. These provide the strawberry plants with nitrogen and potassium which are very essential in the process of flowering, growth and production of fruits. In addition, manure for example farmyard manure can be used in place of the fertilizers or both can be used together to boost the productivity of the strawberry plants. It is also very important to note that the excess use of these fertilizers can lead to environmental pollution. It additionally leads to pollution of water in rivers, lakes and oceans especially when surface runoff water washes the chemicals into these water sources. This may lead to death of aquatic living organisms including fish and other marine organisms. Plastic or polythene films are used to cover the crops preventing them from the excess light and also from the direct effect of erosion. Additionally, growing of strawberries involves the use of irrigation systems to supplement water in cases of inadequacy during humid times. Spraying of strawberries is also very essential in order to eliminate pests and other parasites that may invade and cause harm to the plants. On the contrary, irrigation may cause soil erosion which results from the washing off of the top soil containing nutrients leading to infertility of the soil while spraying may cause air pollution. After harvesting, the transportation of berries involves the use of transit tracks to the processing industries or air transport can also be used to ferry or carry the berries to the processing plants (Arthey and Ashurst, 1996).
During processing, the ripe berries are washed and cleaned thoroughly before sorting them according to their grades. After that, they are peeled and mechanical energy is applied in order to extract the juice after which filtering takes place to sieve out the seeds, fibres and other impurities. This mechanical energy is derived from petroleum driven engines which convert chemical energy to mechanical energy. During this stage of production, emissions especially chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are released to the atmosphere which may cause depletion of the ozone layer hence causing global warming and other environmental imbalances. Heat energy can them be used to kill impurities and other microorganisms in the syrup and after which packing can take place. On the other hand, strawberries can be frozen and packed in cans or any other packaging material. Also, sometimes pectin syrup can be added into the strawberry syrup as a preservative which additionally adds more flavor and test to the syrup. In other cases, strawberries are dried without adding sweeteners that is, they are packed without slicing and crashing which makes them lack the food flavor, texture and attractive colour. In addition, jams and other jellies manufactured from strawberries can be preserved commercially using high levels and content of sugar after which freezing is very fundamental to avoid the formation and development of botulism. The canned and packaged end products are then ready for transportation to the market for consumption. Pectin actually plays a significant role in the formation of strong bonds that hold the sugar molecules strongly together (Waldron, Moates & Faulds, 2010).
Finally, the canned strawberries that have expired in retail shops and other storage centers are collected and incinerated since they are no longer needed. Additionally, these waste products can are utilized in the cosmetic industries to manufacture other cosmetics and beauty products.
Life Cycle Impact Assessment
Strawberry production, processing and distribution have a variety of implications to the environment which includes the following: First, the use of fertilizers in the growing of strawberries greatly leads to water pollution when surface runoff water carrying the chemical fertilizers is dumped into rivers, lakes, oceans and other water sources which ecologically may affect aquatic life. The death of aquatic plants, fish, animals and other aquatic living organisms may cause an environmental imbalance hence affecting the whole human ecosystem. Secondly, emissions released to the atmosphere during the processing may cause air pollution. Additionally, these emissions which majorly comprise of the chlorofluorocarbons may cause depletion and degradation of the ozone layer in the atmosphere which consequently leads to global warming and other greenhouse effects. This includes increase in sea levels and melting of snow in mountains which are all attributed to increase in temperatures (Ziegler, 2007).
Strawberry production can arguably be contended as causing a variety of environmental problems although it is worth noting that it is one of the main horticultural crops produced by European countries. Spain and the United Kingdom are among the top producers of strawberry in the world that is; Spain produces approximately 300, 000 tons of strawberries annually while the United Kingdom produces approximately 48, 000 to 50, 000 tons of strawberries annually. Additionally, it is important to note that Spain produces strawberries mainly in Polytunnels through annual monoculture in sandy soil while the UK strawberry production is mostly in soil which much more is home based than for commercial use (Williams, Pell & Audsley, 2006).
Harris, L. J., Davis, U. C., & Mitchman, E. (2007). Strawberries: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. University of California, 8256: 1-15. Retrieved on 25 January, 2011. From http://ucanr.org/freepubs/docs/8256.pdf
Davidson, A., & Jaine, T. (2006). The Oxford Companion of Food. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Retrieved on 25 January, 2011. From http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=JTr-ouCbL2AC&pg=PA415&dq=Industrial+processing+of+strawberries+to+give+syrup&hl=en&ei=AfI-TaHyNc-p8AOoutjtCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Industrial%20processing%20of%20strawberries%20to%20give%20syrup&f=false
Ziegler, H. (2007). Flavourings: Production, Composition, Applications, Regulations. Aufsess, Germany: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. Retrieved on 25 January, 2011. From http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=9J8USxfwkT0C&pg=PA341&dq=Industrial+processing+of+strawberries&hl=en&ei=hfY-TdPOJoSj8QOTqoDkCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=Industrial%20processing%20of%20strawberries&f=false
Waldron, K. W., Moates, G. K., & Faulds, C. B. (2010). Total Food: Sustainability of the Agri-Food Chain. Cambridge: The Royal Society of Chemistry. Retrieved on 25 January, 2011. From http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=cciO8sHjORQC&pg=PA38&dq=Industrial+processing+of+strawberries&hl=en&ei=hfY-TdPOJoSj8QOTqoDkCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Industrial%20processing%20of%20strawberries&f=false
Arthey, D., & Ashurst, P. R. (1996). Fruit Processing. London: Chapman & Hall. Retrieved on 25 January, 2011. From <http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=TvatVJxVTykC&printsec=copyright#v=onepage&q&f=false
Williams, A., Pell, E., & Audsley, E. (2006). Strawberry and Tomato Production for the UK Compared between the UK and Spain. Cranfield University. Retrieved on 26 January, 2011.