LCA analysis or life cycle analysis is a method for evaluating the environmental impact of products, processes or services during all stages of their life. With plastic products, the environmental impact is assessed from the resource extraction, material production, product manufacturing, distribution, product use and end of life. This holistic LCA assessment is called cradle-to-grave assessment, since it accounts for all stages of a product’s life, while in some cases, products are also assessed using a cradle-to-gate approach, where the use of the product and its end of life are not accounted in the analysis.
LCA Analysis Plays an Important Role in Evaluating Products’ Environmental Impact
LCA analysis is a valuable tool in the eco-design of products since the effect of different product design options could be evaluated in terms of product environmental impact. There are four main steps in the LCA analysis of products: goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, impact assessment and interpretation. The environmental impact is assessed in terms of the product’s effect on human health, ecosystem function and depletion of natural resources.
LCA Analysis as Key Part of the Production Processes at Skaza
At Plastika Skaza, we are constantly striving to develop products that have the lowest possible environmental impact. Therefore, we are using LCA analysis to assess and optimize the environmental impact of our products in the early design phase. The choice of plastic material has one of the greatest impacts on the product’s LCA result. We found that the use of sustainable materials, such as recycled and biobased polymers, significantly reduces the environmental footprint of the products.
However, the evaluation of different materials is not as trivial as simply substituting material data as inputs for LCA analysis. Various polymeric materials also have different physical properties that also have to be considered in the process of product design. For example, when comparing the environmental footprint of two materials with different mechanical properties, we have to take into account that when using materials with better mechanical properties, we can design a product that has thinner walls and thus needs less material to fulfill the needed specifications. Both of these factors (material properties, product design) influence the manufacturing processes (e.g. energy consumption), which also have an impact on the product’s environmental footprint.
Another important consideration is also product’s end of life, in which product material choice also has a large impact. Here, products made of a single type of plastic materials are advantageous, since they are much easier to efficiently recycle than products made out of multiple materials. There are also differences between various polymeric materials as some types of polymeric materials (e.g. unfilled polyolefins) are much easier to recycle than others (e.g. fibre-reinforced plastics).
Future Plans for Further Improvement of Our LCA Analysis Processes
When the LCA analysis of the final product is finalized, it is important to correctly interpret the data and communicate the results to stakeholders clearly and transparently. In this respect, we are currently developing block-chain solutions in the scope of the EcoTrail project, in which an independent third-party evaluator will perform LCA analysis of the final product and store the results on the block-chain, thus ensuring and improving the reliability of the results.
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