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bioplasticsMAGAZINE_0901

Politics Life Cycle

Politics Life Cycle Assessment Extract from a Position Paper of European Bioplastics e.V. Berlin, Germany of Bioplastics Introduction Topics such as sustainable development, fossil and natural resources availability, global climate change and waste reduction are increasingly dominating political and industrial agendas. Therefore, the relevance of the environmental performance of processes, products and services in decision-making is rapidly growing. The relatively new group of materials called bioplastics 1 does offer new opportunities to contribute to these debates. A wide range of bioplastics is currently available on the market. (…) This growing market has also led to an increasing interest in the sustainability 1 of these new materials. (…) The key measurement tool to assess products’ or services’ environmental impact is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Through LCA it is possible to account for all the environmental impacts associated with a product or service, covering all stages in a product’s life, from the extraction of resources to ultimate disposal. LCA is the tool that allows measurement of and reporting on current impacts, alternative scenarios and improvements achieved. LCA can provide data: • to improve the general understanding of the life cycle of products; • to substantiate environmental and economical decisions concerning e.g. process and products improvements, selection of products or services, selection of feedstock, energy carriers and raw materials, and selection of production locations and waste management systems; • for corporate environmental and waste management policies as well as for regulatory and legislative measurements; • on how to position (promote) products in the market; • to the users and the final consumers to enable them to make more informed choices; and 1: for a definition, please refer to the Glossary on pages 46 f • which is necessary for the identification and steering of future developments. 32 bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/09] Vol. 4

Politics LCA results are increasingly being considered as a key input in decision making processes, therefore European Bioplastics has taken this opportunity to outline its position on the LCA tool and its relationship to bioplastics as follows. European Bioplastics supports LCA and Life Cycle Thinking European Bioplastics supports LCA and Life Cycle Thinking in order to promote, quantify and substantiate the environmental sustainability of products. It is crucial to take the complete product life cycle into account, because products may have totally different environmental impacts during different stages of their life cycle. Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) is concerned with analysing complete systems and avoiding problems being shifted from one life cycle stage to another, from one geographic area to another and from one environmental medium to another. LCA provides data to allow better informed decisions, but being a complex tool it needs careful and knowledgeable use LCA is a tool to assess products and generates one of the many inputs in decision making processes. Despite the existence of ISO standards, the number of degrees of freedom for conducting LCAs remains significant. During a study the LCA practitioner has to make many choices and define criteria which can significantly influence the final results. LCA also has a clear subjective dimension: its results always require a weighing of the impact category scores and a final interpretation of the results. LCA is a vital tool, but when using it as a basis for decisions it is necessary to keep in mind its limitations and partly subjective character. LCA enables substantiation and justification of a decision, but never delivers the ‘final result’ or the decision itself. Despite these limitations LCA is the most comprehensive and reliable tool available to assess the environmental performance of products or services. Besides the outcome of the LCA, it is advised to also consider other aspects in the life cycle of products such as safety, consumer use and hygiene. ‘LCA derived measures’ in politics or legislation as well as strong media statements on individual LCA results can have a significant impact on economic or social systems as well as for companies. It is very important that all available information is taken into account and not simply a discrete result of one single LCA. The complexity of the issue – as outlined in this paper - does not allow simple conclusions. Industry should be involved in LCA studies Experts from industry should be involved in LCA studies from an early stage. They are able to deliver specific knowledge and insights that external experts need in order to conduct the LCA in a correct manner. This also applies to the bioplastics sector. ‘THE’ life cycle assessment of bioplastics does not exist There is no such thing as ‘THE Life cycle assessment of bioplastics’. LCA applies to specified products (goods and services), taking into consideration their complete life cycle. The final conclusions about the environmental performance of bioplastic applications depend on many different parameters. These include the type of bioplastics used, the raw materials used, the production and conversion technology, the product, transport media and distances and the consumer use phase as well as the used waste collection and disposal or recycling system(s). There are no simple answers. It is not possible to make generalisations such as “bioplastics are better or worse than other materials”. The optimisation potential for bioplastics is huge. This potential should be included in the LCA, otherwise it becomes a tool which tends to hinder innovation Bioplastics are still in their early stage of development. They are produced in small scale or singular facilities and transport, conversion, product design and final disposal are not being optimised. They are however quite often bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/09] Vol. 4 33

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