Purpose Pesticides are applied to agricultural fields to optimise crop yield and their global use is substantial. Their consideration in life cycle assessment (LCA) is affected by important inconsistencies between the emission inventory and impact assessment phases of LCA. A clear definition of the delineation between the product system model (life cycle inventory – LCI, technosphere) and the natural environment (life cycle impact assessment—LCIA, ecosphere) is missing and could be established via consensus building
Methods A workshop held in 2013 in Glasgow, UK, had the goal of establishing consensus and creating clear guidelines in the following topics: boundary between emission inventory and impact characterisation model, spatial dimensions and the time periods assumed for the application of substances to open agricultural fields or in greenhouses and emissions to the natural environment and their potential impacts. More than 30 specialists in agrifood LCI, LCIA, risk assessment and ecotoxicology, representing industry, government and academia from 15 countries and four continents, met to discuss and reach consensus. The resulting guidelines target LCA practitioners, data (base) and characterisation method developers, and decision makers.
Results and discussion: The focus was on defining a clear interface between LCI and LCIA, capable of supporting any goal and scope requirements while avoiding double counting or exclusion of important emission flows/impacts. Consensus was reached accordingly on distinct sets of recommendations for LCI and LCIA, respectively, recommending, for example, that buffer zones should be considered as part of the crop production system and the change in yield be considered. While the spatial dimensions of the field were not fixed, the temporal boundary between dynamic LCI fate modelling and steady-state LCIA fate modelling needs to be defined. Conclusions and recommendations For pesticide application, the inventory should report pesticide identification, crop, mass applied per active ingredient, application method or formulation type, presence of buffer zones, location/country, application time before harvest and crop growth stage during application, adherence with Good Agricultural Practice, and whether the field is considered part of the technosphere or the ecosphere. Additionally, emission fractions to environmental media on-field and off-field should be reported. For LCIA, the directly concerned impact categories and a list of relevant fate and exposure processes were identified. Next steps were identified: establishing default emission fractions to environmental media for integration into LCI databases and interaction among impact model developers to extend current methods with new elements/processes mentioned in the recommendations.