Dr Alba Bala


Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Sciences (UAB), Master’s Degree in Environmental Sciences (UAB) and PhD in Environmental Sciences (UAB).

Professional and research activity

Dr. Bala currently holds the distinguished position of Executive Director of the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change at ESCI-UPF, alongside serving as the Academic Director of the Master of Science in Sustainability Management, a collaborative program between ESCI-UPF and UPF-BSM. In addition to her administrative roles, she is actively engaged in academia, teaching within the MSc in Sustainability Management and the Postgraduate Program in Management of Sustainable Transition and Climate Emergency at ESCI-UPF, as well as occasionally contributing to other master's and postgraduate programs.

Prior to her current roles, Dr. Bala contributed significantly to academia and consultancy as a lecturer and researcher in EcoDesign and Environmental Assessment of Products at various prestigious institutions including the ELISAVA School of Design, the School of Industrial Design (ESDI), and the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) at UAB. She also brings extensive experience as an environmental consultant.

Dr. Bala's extensive expertise encompasses nearly 25 years of experience in diverse domains including Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), EcoDesign, Green Procurement, and the formulation of comprehensive sustainability methodologies integrating environmental, economic, and social dimensions. Throughout her career, Dr. Bala has been instrumental in applying these methodologies across various projects and initiatives both at the national and international levels, with a particular emphasis on waste management, packaging, food, electrical and electronic equipment, and urban furniture. Notably, she co-founded and co-coordinated the o2-Spain group until December 2007 to promote EcoDesign and remains an active member of the Spanish Network of Life Cycle Assessment.

Acknowledged for her outstanding contributions, Dr. Bala was honored as a finalist for the 2008 European Innova Award by the European Commission, DG Enterprise and Industry. Additionally, she received the esteemed Design for Recycling Award in the project category from the Generalitat de Catalunya in 2000.

Selected publications

Dietary choices, a main driver of food production, play a significant role within the climate change arena. Consequently, there is a growing trend on publishing research assessing the environmental impacts of diets and dietary shifts, mainly following the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. However, several methodological issues still bring a challenge, especially in the definition of the function and the quantification of the functional unit (FU).
The FU is the reference unit of an LCA study, and it is the basis for allowing comparison among different systems. This short communication defines the function of diets as the supply of the daily required amount of calories and nutrients, and it proposes a novel FU that accounts for the energy intake and the nutritional quality of the diet. In order to compare the performance of the proposed FU to the most commonly ones used for diet LCAs (mass-based and isocaloric), dietary scenarios within the Spanish context are assessed. On the one hand, using a mass-based FU, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are underestimated, since the nutrition properties of food are not considered, and, on the other hand, the isocaloric substitution does not allow comparison among diets with different levels of energy intake. In contrast, the proposed caloric-and nutrient-corrected FU allows to compare diets that differ in energy and nutritional quality in a fairer way. Finally, it is recommended to use this FU for future diet LCAs.

The aviation industry generates a significant amount of comingle waste. Nowadays, companies are making efforts to enhance waste management and reduce waste generation. In order to improve present practices and implement a proper waste management system, the quantities, materials, and typology of waste generated need to be studied. A total of 145 airplanes were analysed. We differentiated 5 strips of duration and identified 4 different generation sources within the cabin associated to the business and tourist passenger classes. We classified and characterized the waste into 20 different materials. Results provide a detailed, representative and adapted study of the catering waste generated in the aviation industry. The characterization, which allows distinguishing between manipulated and unmanipulated materials, aims at providing useful information to reduce the generation of waste. The analysis performed in the present study shows that the flying distance increases the waste generation, as more food is served. It also shows that organic matter, paper/cardboard and packaging are the dominant materials in the waste generated in flights. The results of the characterizations obtained allow making some recommendations. The use of bi-compartmentalized waste trolleys to separate on-board recyclable materials from the rest is desirable to obtain a clean recoverable waste stream. Supressing unpopular food from menus, identified analysing the leftovers, could also reduce the amount of waste generated. (This characterization study is part of the European project LIFE?+?Zero Cabin Waste.). Changes in the CE 1069/2009 regulation would allow more waste to be recycled instead of landfilled. Ultimately, the information obtained from this study will be used to design a more sustainable waste management system.


The main purpose of this article is to assess the nutritional and economic efficiency of food loss and waste (FLW) along the supply of 13 food categories included in the Spanish food basket by means of the definition of a new method which combines two indexes.


The nutrient-rich foods index and the economic food loss and waste (EFLW) index were combined by means of linear programming to obtain the nutritional cost footprint (NCF) indicator under a life cycle perspective. The functional unit used was the daily supply of food for a Spanish citizen in year 2015.

Results and discussion

Results showed that vegetables and cereals were the food categories most affected by the inefficiencies in the food supply chain under a nutritional perspective, being agricultural production and household consumption the main stages in which the nutritional content of food is lost or wasted. Moreover, according to the NCF index, vegetables represented 27% of total nutritional-economic wastage throughout the entire Spanish agri-food chain. They are followed by fruits, which add up to 19%. Hence, specific food waste management strategies should be established for these specific products and supply stages. Finally, the sensitivity analysis performed highlighted that results were mostly independent from the importance attributed to either nutritional or economic variables.


The methodology described in this study proposes an indicator quantifying the nutritional-economic cost of different food categories in the Spanish food basket. This NCF indicator makes it possible to define reduction strategies to promote the use of food waste fractions for waste-to-energy valorization approaches or the extraction of different types of pharmacological, chemical, or cosmetic compounds.

Food packaging is an important industrial sector that has great influence on food loss and waste. The search of optimal conditions to minimize the negative impacts of food packaging on the environment must promote the selection of the best available packages. This work has evaluated the environmental impact of the distribution of fruit and vegetables in the Spanish peninsular context using reusable plastic crates and single-use cardboard boxes. Discussion and decision at each phase and step of the methodology were provided, being an example to follow for similar studies in the future. For the analysis, five different impact categories were considered: global warming potential, acidification potential, eutrophication potential, ozone depletion potential and photochemical oxidant creation potential. In addition, energy and water consumption were taken into account. According to the results of the analysis, the use of reusable plastic crates should be selected, since the values of all impact categories and energy consumption indicators were higher in the case of single-use cardboard boxes. The sensitivity analysis revealed a robust preference for plastic crates in comparison with cardboard boxes even in alternative scenarios, and only the hypothetic reduction of the quality of the cardboard resulted in significant lower impacts for cardboard boxes in comparison to plastic crates in photochemical oxidant creation potential, acidification potential, and energy consumption. This work demonstrates that plastic packaging should not be totally excluded or banned, since it can be the most environmentally friendly option in certain applications.

The big challenge of the next decades is meeting the global nutritional demand, while reducing the pressure on food resources and the GHG emissions. In this regard, the overall goal consists of redesigning the food systems and promoting sustainable dietary patterns is a crucial aspect. This article focuses on reviewing the state-of-the-art of the combined Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and the Water–Energy–Food (WEF) Nexus approach in assessing the effects of diet transitions. Diet LCAs differ in methodology, design, and assessed environmental impacts. The WEF nexus, which aims at finding synergies and trade-offs between the water, energy, and food resources systems, has been applied to different contexts and levels. However, a limited number of nexus methods have been developed at the food and diet levels, and no commonly recognizable methodology for the nexus assessment has been achieved. An integrated LCA and WEF Nexus approach can be a decisive tool to improve the understanding of the interconnections in the nexus, as it enables the consideration of entire supply chains.

This study assesses the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and the nutritional quality of the current food consumption and losses of an average Spanish citizen, and compares them with two alternative diets: one following the Spanish dietary guidelines (The NAOS Strategy; NAOS), and another one based on the Mediterranean (MED) diet. The diet-related GHG emissions of current eating patterns would be reduced by 17% and 11%, when shifting to the NAOS and MED diets, respectively, and even more (42% and 35%) when diets' nutritional qualities are considered within the functional unit. In addition, food losses contribute 21% to diet's emissions. Our results suggest that national dietary guidelines (NDGs) can be a good policy tool, not only to lead to a healthier condition, but also to promote a shift towards a lower-carbon diets. Finally, it is recommended that life cycle-based indicators are added within the NDGs, to better communicate the environmental impacts of dietary choices, and ultimately enhance knowledge and awareness of consumers.

Municipal solid waste (MSW) collection is an important issue in the development and management of smart cities, having a significant influence on environmental sustainability. Door-to-door and pneumatic collection are two systems that represent a way of arranging waste collection in city´s historic areas in Spain where conventional street-side container collection is not feasible. Since door-to-door collection generates significant direct greenhouse gas emissions from trucks, pneumatic collection emerges as an alternative to the trucking system. While this technology apparently reduces local direct air emissions, it suffers from a large energy demand derived from vacuum production for waste suction. The introduction of new normative frameworks regarding the selective collection of the biodegradable fraction makes necessary a comprehensive analysis to assess the influence of this fraction collection and its subsequent recycling by anaerobic digestion. As a novelty, this work compares both conventional door-to-door and pneumatic collection systems from a life cycle approach focusing on the biodegradable waste. Results indicate that, in spite of the fact electricity production and consumption have a significant influence on the results, the energy savings from the recycling of the organic fraction are higher than the energy requirements. Therefore, the pneumatic collection could be an environmentally-friendly option for MSW management under a circular economy approach in Spanish city´s historic areas, since wastes could be a material or energy source opportunity.

Food losses and waste (FLW) tend to be referred to in terms of mass, occasionally in economic terms, disregarding the nutritional-cost nexus of such losses. This work aims to estimate the nutritional food losses and waste (NFLW) of the Spanish agri-food system in terms of energy, macronutrients, fibre, and vitamins and minerals along the entire supply chain. Nutritional food losses (NFL) occurring prior to the distribution level, and nutritional food waste (NFW) at the retail and consumption stages, were distinguished, and 48 representative food commodities and 32 nutrients were characterised. To provide insight into the extent of these values, the results are compared to the equivalent recommended daily intake. In addition, the NFLW for an average Spanish citizen is compared to that for other representative diets: Mediterranean, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and vegan along with the Spanish recommended guidelines. Finally, a nutritional cost footprint (NCF) indicator combining nutritional and economic variables is proposed to define recovery strategies. The results suggest that 4251 kj (1016?kcal), 70.7?g proteins, 22?g dietary fibre, 975?μg vitamin A, 117?mg vitamin C and 332?mg calcium daily per capita are embedded within Spanish FLW. Agricultural production accounts for 40% of NFLW, and fruits and vegetables are the categories with the largest potential for nutritional and economic food wastage mitigation. Results from this paper provide NFLW data and analysis to strengthen and simplify the decision-making process of FLW management strategies.

Annually, around 7.7 billion passengers travel by plane. The menus served during the flight are quite similar between different airlines and are composed of the food itself, packaging (paper envelopes, film, etc.) and tableware (mainly trays, plates, glasses, cups and cutlery). In 2016, 1522 tonnes of tourist class menus were served in Iberia aircrafts landing at Madrid Barajas airport in Spain. From this amount, 51% by weight was packaging and tableware, and the remaining 49% food. As changes in the food has little room for maneuver, since the same amount would be delivered regardless how it is served, this study focus on the possibilities of packaging and tableware to reduce GHG emissions. The assessment has been done using life cycle assessment methodology (LCA) in order to identify the hotspots along the whole life cycle of packaging and tableware items. The case study chosen was the catering service of Iberia, the national airline of Spain. The functional unit used was “the service of 1,000 tourist class menus on Iberia flights that landed in Madrid in 2016”.

The results show that the impacts of reusable and single use items take place at different stages of their life cycles. For reusable ones, 76% of the impact is produced during the flight phase, meanwhile, for single use ones, 53% of the impact comes from the production stage.

Variables such as material, weight and the number of reuses can greatly influence greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. From the results of the analysis some eco-design strategies has been proposed and analysed. The paper reveals that the lighter single-use packaging and tableware for airline catering are less harmful under a life cycle perspective become

Improving the food supply chain efficiency has been identified as an essential means to enhance food security, while reducing pressure on natural resources. Adequate food loss and waste (FLW) management has been proposed as an approach to meet these objectives. The main hypothesis of this study is to consider that the “strong fluctuations and short-term changes” on eating habits may have major consequences on potential FLW generation and management, as well as on GHG emissions, all taking into account the nutritional and the economic cost. Due to the exceptional lockdown measures imposed by the Spanish government, as a consequence of the emerging coronavirus disease, COVID-19, food production and consumption systems have undergone significant changes, which must be properly studied in order to propose strategies from the lessons learned. Taking Spain as a case study, the methodological approach included a deep analysis of the inputs and outputs of the Spanish food basket, the supply chain by means of a Material Flow Analysis, as well as an economic and comprehensive nutritional assessment, all under a life cycle thinking approach. The results reveal that during the first weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown, there was no significant adjustment in overall FLW generation, but a partial reallocation from extra-domestic consumption to households occurred (12% increase in household FLW). Moreover, the economic impact (+11%), GHG emissions (+10%), and the nutritional content (−8%) complete the multivariable impact profile that the COVID-19 outbreak had on FLW generation and management. Accordingly, this study once again highlights that measures aimed at reducing FLW, particularly in the household sector, are critical to make better use of food surpluses and FLW prevention and control, allowing us to confront future unforeseen scenarios.

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UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and
Climate Change ESCI-UPF

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2024-06-25 15:48:20