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Politics compared with

Politics compared with mature materials whose life cycles have been optimised over several decades. This often leads to a biased comparison. LCA practitioners should always include possible optimization steps for innovative materials. By not including future outlooks for new materials, LCA is becoming a tool, which tends to hinder innovation in its early stage. This has never been the intention of this tool. It is the key responsibility of the LCA practitioner to provide a balanced view. It is also recommended that the final user of the LCA results check whether improvement options have been taken into account. (…) ‘Newcomers’ are often scrutinized, while existing materials are often much less questioned. This should be more balanced in LCAs New materials and products derived from them, such as bioplastics are often closely scrutinized, while many existing products ‘on the shelf’ are much less thoroughly examined. Within their life cycle bioplastics are often ‘put under the microscope’ while the impact of e.g. oil or gas production is often modelled using fewer details (using data from generic databases) or sometimes totally ignored (accidents with oil tankers and their impact on the environment). A more balanced approach is required. European Bioplastics recognizes that novel products require careful analysis, but mature and young innovative products should be compared on an equal basis. Comparative product LCAs should ensure that only products with the same function are compared One of the key preconditions in comparative LCAs is that only products which have exactly the same function in the market place are compared – an aspect of LCA which is often underestimated. Only packaging for the same product and for the same delivery system may be compared. Sometimes in LCA studies generic categories of packaging are compared with no attention to their functions. Renewable carbon accounting should form part of an LCA Bioplastics using renewable feedstock do offer an intrinsic reduced carbon footprint depending on the amount of renewable carbon in the product. Biobased plastics use renewable or biogenic carbon as a building block. This biogenic carbon is captured from the atmosphere by plants during the growth process and converted into the required raw materials. When the product is being incinerated at the end of its useful life, the biogenic carbon is returned to the atmosphere – or in other words, cycled in a closed biogenic CO 2 loop, referred to as being carbonneutral. Therefore the term ‘carbon-neutral’ only refers to the biogenic carbon. Automatic consideration of bioplastics as ‘carbonneutral’ and consequently leaving out the biogenic carbon from the life cycle inventory is not supported for many reasons. (…) Hence biogenic carbon must be considered in a LCA, just like any other input or output and not be omitted from the study. Bioplastics offer new recovery and final disposal options. LCA can help to evaluate these new options Bioplastics can be treated in many different waste management systems such as energy recovery, mechanical recycling, composting, anaerobic digestion and chemical recycling. This means that bioplastics can offer more recovery options than traditional products that are not suitable for composting. As with any material, landfill should be avoided since this represents a loss of useful material and energy. The optimum choice depends on various factors such as the composition of the bioplastic, the application, the volume on the market and the available (from a technical and legislative point of view) regional waste management infrastructure for collection and processing. Therefore the end of life of bioplastics can be rather complex and LCA should provide the required information to make the best choice. The selected recovery or final disposal option will influence the outcome of an LCA. Therefore it has to be set up most carefully, also considering possible indirect beneficial effects. These include for instance, the possibility of obtaining homogeneous organic waste streams suitable for organic recycling in the case of compostable bioplastics, or the possi-bility of producing green energy in the case of incineration of renewable bioplastics. LCA is an analytical tool, not a communication tool LCA is a good tool with which to assess the environmental performance of products. However, it is too complex to use to communicate the environmental performance of products to final consumers. The ‘translation and interpretation’ of the outcome of LCAs into environmental messages, which are commonly understandable calls for other tools. This is an extract of the Position Paper. (…) indicates where paragraphs had to be dropped for space reasons. The full text of this Position Paper can be downloaded from LCA_PositionPaper.pdf 34 bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/09] Vol. 4

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