Spain, especially in Catalonia and Andalusia, is experiencing droughts and water scarcity. During these dry periods, water levels in rivers, lakes, and streams decrease, concentrating pollutants and nutrients that reach the Mediterranean Sea, the Cantabrian Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. This concentration can worsen acidification and eutrophication, damaging aquatic ecosystems. Therefore, effective water management is crucial to mitigate the impacts of these environmental processes.

Sustainable Development Goal 14 focuses on the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas, and marine resources. Marine resources are vital to our planet and regulate the global climate system. They are the world’s largest ecosystem, home to nearly a million known species, and contain vast untapped potential for scientific discovery. They provide key natural resources, including food, medicines, biofuels, and other products; contribute to the breakdown and removal of waste and pollution; and their coastal ecosystems act as buffers to reduce damage caused by storms. They also serve as the planet’s largest carbon sink. Marine pollution is reaching extreme levels, with more than 17 million metric tons in 2021, a figure expected to double or triple by 2040 (UN, 2023).

As mentioned before, two main problems in aquatic systems are acidification and eutrophication. Acidification threatens the survival of marine life, alters the food chain, and undermines vital services provided by the sea and our own food security (UN, 2023). Water acidification primarily occurs due to the transformation of atmospheric pollutants into acids. This leads to a decrease in the pH value of rainwater and mist from 5.6 to 4, or even lower. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, as well as their respective acids (H2SO4 and HNO3), significantly contribute to environmental acidification. The potential for acidification is measured in terms of sulfur dioxide equivalents (SO2-Eq.) and is described as the ability of certain substances to create and release H+ ions (EC, 2014).

Eutrophication is based on the loads and proportions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and silica transported by rivers to coastal waters (UNstatus, 2023). The result is accelerated algae growth on the surface, which in turn prevents sunlight from reaching deeper waters. This leads to a decrease in photosynthesis and oxygen production. Additionally, the decomposition of dead algae consumes a lot of oxygen. Both effects lead to a decrease in oxygen concentration in the water, which can cause fish death and anaerobic decomposition. The potential for eutrophication is calculated in units of phosphate equivalents (PO4-Eq) (EC, 2014).

Therefore, careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future. In this regard, Sustainable Development Goal 14 is dedicated to this topic, with specific indicators for acidification (14.3.1) and eutrophication (14.1.1).

Given that ARECO partners are working towards sustainability and the achievement of sustainable development goals, they also play a significant role in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14. According to the results of a study conducted by the UNESCO Chair on Life Cycle and Climate Change (BALA and FULLANA, 2017), as can be seen in Table 1 and Figure 1, Reusable Transport Crastes (RPCs) have almost 2.6 times less eutrophication potential and 1.2 times less acidification potential than single-use cardboard boxes.

Table 1: Comparison of Eutrophication and Acidification Potential.

Environmental Impact Reusable Plastic Crates (RPC) Cardboard Boxes
  902 2376
Eutrophication Potential (kg Phosphate-Equiv.) – Per box 1.35E-04 3.56E-04
Acidification Potential (kg SO2-Equiv) – Per ton of distributed fruit 4012 4867
Acidification Potential (kg SO2-Equiv) – Per box 6.02E-04 7.30E-04


By using RPCs, it is evident that we can contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14. The use of RPCs aligns with our commitment to environmental sustainability, emphasizing the importance of responsible practices that support the well-being of marine life and delicate underwater ecosystems.

By Sahar Azarkamand, researcher of the ARECO Fellowship of the UNESCO Chair of Life Cycle of ESCI-UPF.


BALA, A., and FULLANA, P., 2017, Análisis comparado de diferentes opcines de distribución de frutas y verduras en españa basado en el ACV, Cátedra UNESCO de Ciclo de Vida y Cambio Climático,ESCI-UPF, Available:

European Commission, 2014, Indicators and targets for the reduction of the environmental impact of EU consumption: Overall environmental impact (resource) indicators.

United Nations (UN), Department of Global Communications, 2023, WHAT IS GOAL 14 – LIFE BELOW WATER?-Fact sheet,

UNstatus, 2023, SDG indicator metadata (Harmonized metadata template – format version 1.1),

By Sahar Azarkamand, researcher of the ARECO Fellowship of the UNESCO Chair of Life Cycle of ESCI-UPF.