Using a gate-to-gate LCA to apply circular economy principles to a food processing SME

Tracey Anne Colley*, Morten Birkved, Stig Irving Olsen, Michael Zwicky Hauschild

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The purpose of this study was to assess: what are the circular economy opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in the meat processing sector to reduce their environmental impacts, using Life cycle assessment (LCA) as the analytical method to prevent burden shifting; whether current life cycle inventories and LCA studies adequately represent SMEs such as the study plant; and whether climate change is a suitable proxy for impacts.

Life cycle inventory data from a SME meat processing site in regional Australia was used for benchmarking with existing industry data and for risk and opportunity identification along the supply chain. A LCA was conducted of the current operation and possible future energy supply scenarios involving the use of tallow, wastewater methane and biomass production, to identify the best performing option as part of a PhD project on SMEs and sustainability in agribusiness value chains. System expansion was used to handle all coproducts and byproducts. The area of land required to produce biomass was calculated and was compared to the catchment area for livestock, and an estimate was made of the non-arable land area required to produce biomass to offset all greenhouse emissions for the supply chain. Inventory data and LCA results for this SME were significantly different to previous LCAs. The system expansion resulted in large credits, particularly for edible offal. Climate change may not be a suitable proxy for other midpoint impact categories due to the difference in contributing processes. The best future energy appeared to be the biomass scenario, which involved using tallow for biodiesel production, capturing methane generated in the onsite wastewater treatment system for electricity generation, using tallow to generate the remaining electricity needs and using biomass for thermal energy production. Less than 0.5% of the non-arable land area required for producing the livestock for the plant was needed for biomass production, and if all supply chain emissions were offset using biomass, the land area required was 12% for life time grass fed beef. The potential for supply chain integration in the red meat sector appears promising, particularly in terms of offsets from biomethane use for electricity production, tallow use for biodiesel production and biomass production for thermal energy use. Life cycle assessment is a useful tool to screen circular economy options and identify the best future scenario, although a wide range of impact categories should be assessed as climate change may not be a suitable proxy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number119566
JournalJournal of cleaner production
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Cite this