Methodology of the UP Scorecard

The UP Scorecard looks at six separate impact areas when assessing the human and environmental impacts of foodware and food packaging products. Learn more about each of these six areas below, and find more detailed information in the published methodology document.

Plastic Pollution

The proliferation of plastic pollution has emerged as one of the greatest environmental threats of our time with troubling implications for food systems, fisheries, human health and the climate. By preventing unnecessary plastic use, we measurably reduce the cascade of ecological risks created when this material enters the environment. The UP Scorecard will show how foodware choices contribute to plastic pollution.

Indicator: grams of plastic leakage to the environment

The Plastic Pollution metric estimates the amount of plastic that enters the environment, including plastic pollution to land and aquatic ecosystems. Leakage from the following five life cycle stages is estimated:

  • Loss during resin raw material manufacture, handling, and transport (e.g. as “nurdles”)
  • Loss in the supply chain during conversion from resin to containers
  • Loss as litter and plastic pollution during or after use of container
  • Handling and management after use, including sorting and reclamation
  • Loss during disposal

The UP Scorecard estimates plastic leakage rates at each stage and reports the aggregate contribution to plastic pollution in units of mass. Different plastic resins are assumed to leak at the same rate for a particular life cycle stage. As location-specific (e.g. state, county, or city) data representing litter and plastic pollution rates and waste management practices become more available, the estimates of plastic leakage can be updated to account for these data.

Chemicals of Concern

The presence of toxic chemicals in food packaging associated with harm to humans and the environment is well documented. Hundreds of different harmful substances can be present in the various types of materials used in food packaging and can leach out in different amounts and at different rates depending on many factors. The UP Scorecard helps to guide users in avoiding the most concerning substances in food packaging and moving towards healthier materials.

Indicator: scale from 1 (worst) – 100 (best) based on chemicals of concern and material inertness

The Chemicals of Concern (CoC) metric is intended to encourage suppliers to better understand the chemical impact of their products and to empower purchasers to eliminate chemicals of high concern from their portfolios and ask for safer ingredients. To provide a starting point and pathway to safer foodware and packaging, a matrixed approach was developed that calculates two separate scores to:

  1. Consider the avoidance of chemicals of concern based on a tiered list of chemicals and reward verification of claims and
  2. Consider the inertness of the food contact material, as a proxy for the propensity for any present chemicals of concern to migrate from the product into food and the environment.

These two scores are then combined to calculate a total CoC score for each food contact material on the UP Scorecard’s results page. Where only limited or highly uncertain data were available to inform the score, this is visually communicated to the user on the scorecard’s results page.

Climate

The carbon footprint from plastic manufacturing is expected to become increasingly important as this sector expands. But replacement materials often have larger greenhouse emissions. The UP Scorecard enables carbon-conscious consumers and professionals with the information they need to make informed product choices.

Indicator: grams CO2 equivalents (CO2e)

The Climate metric estimates the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the product and is assessed using IPCC 2013 radiative forcing factors, as implemented by the Ecoinvent Centre. The implementation includes 45 substances characterized in terms of their relative radiative forcing potential in comparison to carbon dioxide.

Water Use

Nearly one in five major cities around the world faces a high to very high risk of drought. While many of us are increasingly focused on water conservation, it’s not obvious to all that washing reusable containers usually saves water compared to using single-use container options. The UP Scorecard will show you which container system uses the least amount of water, even compared with washing reusables.

Indicator: liters of water consumed

To assess water use by the product system, the UP Scorecard follows the methodology of the Global Water Footprint Standard. It computes the “blue water footprint,” which reports consumptive use of surface and groundwater throughout the product supply chain, including actions that result in the transfer of water between reservoirs. The blue water footprint is reported as the total volume of water consumed; it does not account for regional differences in water scarcity. The blue water footprint does not include rain that falls on crops or forests.

Sustainable Sourcing

Increasing the post-consumer recycled content in packaging materials avoids the need to extract virgin natural resources and also creates urgently needed market demand for recycling. For containers made from plant-based materials, the sustainability of the agricultural or forestry practices used to grow the plants have a huge impact on the overall sustainability of the container. The UP Scorecard combines these two critical issues into one Sustainable Sourcing metric.

Indicator: scale from 1 (worst) – 5 (best)

The Sustainable Sourcing metric is a qualitative assessment based on the percentage of post-consumer recycled content in the container and, for containers made from plant fiber, if the fiber production has earned one of several specified sustainability certifications. Because of the concern about chemical contamination from recovered materials, the Sustainable Sourcing metric only rewards recycled content in metals (aluminum and steel), glass, and PET bottles.

Recoverability

Waste is no longer a luxury we can afford on an ever-crowded, natural resource-constrained planet. We must retool our food system to reduce reliance on disposable and hard-to-recycle products and encourage packaging solutions with circularity in mind: Packaging that can be reused or truly recycled or composted to provide sustainable feedstock for future products or degrade safely into the natural environment. The UP Scorecard provides a recoverability ranking to demonstrate the circularity potential of each foodware product.

Indicator: scale from 1 (worst) – 5 (best)

The Recoverability metric is a qualitative rating that represents the potential for the material to be recovered for commercial use (i.e. reused, recycled, or composted) or converted into a beneficial material by nature. It considers compostability, packaging design for recyclability, and material persistence. All materials are ranked in one of five performance tiers: reusable, recoverable in both commerce and nature, recoverable in commerce only, recoverable in nature only, or not recoverable. The tiers were developed by the UP Scorecard project team and informed by interviews with additional experts.

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