Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Impact of Plastic Products

Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Impact of Plastic Products

Author: T.J. O'Neill
ISBN 978-1-85957-364-8 

Pages 134, Figures 15, Tables 10
Life-cycle analysis is a technique used to quantify the environmental impact of products during their entire life cycle. The different parts of the life cycle are examined from raw material extraction, manufacture, transport and use through to waste processing. For each stage, an inventory is made of the energy and material consumption and of any emissions to the environment. This makes it possible to identify components where improvement can be made to benefit the environment.

This type of investigation of products may bring economic advantages, as often material and energy consumption are reduced. Environmentally friendly products also have a marketing advantage, as consumers are becoming increasingly aware of 'green' issues. In addition, legislation is being introduced across the world to enforce environmentally friendly practices. The concept of product responsibility is commonplace and manufacturers and end-users must now consider the cradle to the grave pathway of each product.

There are many different types of environmental impact. For example, plastics are generally produced from fossil fuels, which are gradually becoming depleted. The production process itself involves energy consumption and further resource depletion. During production, emissions may occur to water, air or soil. Emissions of concern include heavy metals, chlorofluorocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, sulfur oxides and dust. These emissions have effects such as ozone depletion, carcinogenicity, smog, acid rain, etc. Thus, production of a plastic product can have adverse effects on ecosystems, human health, and the physical environment.

This review describes the process of life cycle analysis in some detail. It describes the different organizations involved in researching and applying these techniques and the database resources being used to generate comparative reports. Many companies and organizations are now undertaking life cycle analysis of new and existing products. The Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME) has been at the forefront in developing ecoprofiles for the plastics industry and users of plastic products. ISO has been active in generating new standards on environmental management, notably the ISO 14000 family of standards - a summary is included in this review.

Design for the environment is covered in the report, as one of the principal uses of life cycle assessment is to improve environmental performance from the first stages of product development. There are many factors to consider for each environmental impact assessment, so a system has to be used to highlight the most significant factors for comparisons to be made. One major advantage of plastic materials is their lightweight and strength - a thin polymer film may perform the same job as a thick layer of natural material, thus resulting in reduced material use and reduced energy costs in transport.

Life cycle analysis is a crucial technique for the plastics industry in the 21st Century. Manufacturers and suppliers need to demonstrate that they are acting responsibly towards the environment in all aspects of production, from the design phase through consumer use and abuse, to disposal of end of life components. This overview of the subject explains the factors to be considered, the terminology, the organizations involved in developing these techniques and the legislation, which is driving the whole process forward. The ISO standards relating to environmental management are also discussed briefly in the document.

This review is accompanied by summaries of selected papers on life cycle analysis and environmental impact from the Rapra Polymer Library database (formerly known as Rapra Abstracts). These papers, including overviews and case studies, are indexed to allow the reader to search for information on specific topics.

Key features…

Life cycle assessment
Environmental impact
Design for the environment
Sources of information
Key organizations

1. Introduction
2. Product Sustainability

3. EU Integrated Product Policy

4. Environmental Impact
4.1 Products in General
4.2 Plastic Products
4.3 Test Standards

5. Life Cycle Analysis
5.1 Life Cycle Assessment
5.2 Life Cycle Inventory (LCI)
5.3 Life Cycle Impact Assessment
5.4 Evaluation
5.5 Life Cycle Interpretation

6. Eco-Profiling of Plastics

7. Eco-Profile of Polyvinyl Chloride

8. LCA Models
8.1 The Boustead Model
8.2 Streamlined Product LCA

9. Design for the Environment (DfE)
9.1 DfE Databases and Tools
9.1.1 Introduction to Environmental Design of Industrial Products (EDIP)
9.1.2 Framework for Responsible Environmental Decision-Making (FRED)
9.1.3 Life Cycle Product Design (LCPD)
9.1.4 Carnegie Mellon Green Design Initiative

10. Sustainability of Plastics Products
10.1 The Regulator's Point of View
10.2 The Industry's Point of View
10.3 General Conclusions

Abbreviation and Acronyms
Additional References

Dr. Tom O'Neill is chairman of the ISO/TC61 guidance committees on international standards covering environmental aspects and burning behavior of plastics. He represents the British Plastics Federation on the UK Government's Environmental Chemical Stakeholders Forum and on BSI technical committees responsible for environmental and fire-safety standards for electro-technical materials and building products. Dr. O'Neill is former Regulatory Advisor to DuPont de Nemours (Europe) and chairman of the CEFIC working group on the EU Integrated Product Policy Initiative.