Sustainable Agri-Food Processes and Circular Economy Pathways in a Life Cycle Perspective: State of the Art of Applicative Research
This study aims at providing a systematic and critical review on the state of the art of life cycle applications from the circular economy point of view. In particular, the main objective is to understand how researchers adopt life cycle approaches for the measurement of the empirical circular pathways of agri-food systems along with the overall lifespan. To perform the literature review, the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) protocol was considered to conduct a review by qualitative synthesis. Specifically, an evaluation matrix has been set up to gather and synthesize research evidence, by classifying papers according to several integrated criteria. The literature search was carried out employing scientific databases. The findings highlight that 52 case studies out of 84 (62% of the total) use stand-alone life cycle assessment (LCA) to evaluate the benefits/impacts of circular economy (CE) strategies. In contrast, only eight studies (9.5%) deal with the life cycle costing (LCC) approach combined with other analyses while no paper deals with the social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) methodology. Global warming potential, eutrophication (for marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems), human toxicity, and ecotoxicity results are the most common LCA indicators applied. Only a few articles deal with the CE assessment through specific indicators. We argue that experts in life cycle methodologies must strive to adopt some key elements to ensure that the results obtained fit perfectly with the measurements of circularity and that these can even be largely based on a common basis.