Greenhouse Gas Emissions

How the cold chain can reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Expansion of the food cold chain in developing countries could reduce net food waste greenhouse gas emissions by 180-550 million tons of CO2 equivalent annually between now and 2050, representing more than a 50% reduction in the carbon footprint of food waste currently due to the lack and/or inefficiencies of cold chains.

A 2015 study by the Global Food Cold Chain Council (GFCCC) highlights the importance of refrigeration technology in reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste (rotting food releases greenhouse gases such as CO2and methane). According to a study by Bio Intelligence Service, a member of the Deloitte network, expansion of the food cold chain in developing countries could reduce net food waste greenhouse gas emissions by 180-550 million tons of CO2 equivalent annually between now and 2050, representing more than a 50% reduction in the carbon footprint of food waste currently due to the lack and/or inefficiencies of cold chains. GFCCC Executive Director Kevin Fay said, “It is important that we remain focused on all aspects of potential for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, especially those associated with food waste. Technology offers substantial savings today and in the future as new innovations evolve.”

There is an increasing recognition of the need to understand the total impact of the cold chain in terms of GHG emissions, food waste, and food waste greenhouse gas emissions and how these factors interlink. A recent review paper [2] examines the cold chain as a transformative technology, identifying key intrinsic, indirect, and external factors that will favourably, unfavourably, or ambiguously impact the environmental profile of the food system. The review identifies key interactions and feedbacks between the cold chain, food production and consumption decisions, infrastructure development, and the global environment which are largely unexamined and in need of empirical data. Viewing cold chain expansion from this broader perspective is essential to understanding the changing impacts of the food system in developing countries and may inform future sustainability planning. The cold chain’s development is unlikely to wane, and as such, there is a need for studies which understand the relationships and effects of expanded refrigeration within the global food system. Refrigeration must be viewed from a larger perspective which includes analysis of social and behavioural shifts, creating a more complete assessment of the system’s sustainability impacts.

[2] Critical Research Needed to Examine the Environmental Impacts of Expanded Refrigeration on the Food System, Brent R. Heard and Shelie A. Miller, Environ. Sci. Technol. Advance Publication: Date (Web): Oct 14, 2016 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b02740

The figure shows the key factors related to the cold chain and their primary categorizations. Intrinsic factors relate to the technology itself; indirect factors are those relating to the technology’s adoption and interaction with other systems, and external factors occur independently of the technology’s presence.

The review paper concludes that analysing the feedback loop between refrigeration, global temperature, energy consumption, and GHG emissions will be a critical task in anticipating the environmental impacts of the cold chain. Only by understanding the relationship between these factors, and promoting interventions such as efficiency improvements or changes to lower-emitting energy sources, can the cold chain be expected to expand in a way which aligns with sustainability objectives.