The life cycle of plastics
Life cycle assessment (LCA) considers the environmental aspects associated with a product over its lifespan.
The LCA is broken into four stages:
Defining the goal and scope
how much of a product’s lifecycle will be addressed, the reasons for carrying out the assessment, the intended audience, and the intended end-use
capturing the material and energy flows in the product system and how they interact with the environment (from raw material use to emissions)
defining the impacts from the inventory analysis and assessing their importance
a critical review of the findings and consideration of the data sensitivity
UNEP-SETAC Life Cycle Initiative
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) launched the Life Cycle Initiative in 2002. Its mission is to enable the global use of credible life cycle knowledge to achieve a more sustainable society.
For Plastics Europe, Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) is a strategic concept based on robust data and methodology. In recognition of its importance, we have long been a sponsor of the life cycle initiative. The initiative focuses on facilitating the generation and application of science-based life cycle approaches and information for products by business, governments, and civil society worldwide as a basis for sustainable consumption and production.
More information about the Life Cycle Initiative
Plastics Europe was the first industry organisation to assemble and publish detailed environmental data on the processes operated by its member companies.
The first Eco-profile reports were published in 1993. Since then, reports have been added and continuously updated so that there have been more than 70 Eco-profile reports published and freely available. Eco-profiles cover the high volume, bulk polymers, some of the more widely used engineering plastics. Widely acknowledged among life cycle practitioners and other stakeholders worldwide as representative datasets, they have been included in various commercial life cycle databases and the publicly available Global LCA Data Access network (GLAD).
The aim of Eco-profiles
We have set ourselves clear objectives when compiling the Eco-profile reports that represent European production averages:
First, we place scientifically sound data in the public domain for use in product life cycle studies without compromising the confidentiality of detailed process data of the individual companies.
Second, we encourage environmental improvements in production processes through benchmarking against a European industry average.
Third, given the large contribution of upstream effects to the Eco-profile of a polymer and given the distribution of input materials, such as ethylene or naphtha via the European pipeline network, we consider industry averages to be the most robust representation of polymer production systems.
The future of Eco-profiles
Since the first Eco-profile reports were published, Life Cycle Assessment methodology, standardisation, and practice have undergone substantial changes. New concepts, such as Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and carbon footprints have emerged. Downstream industries such as the building and construction sector have their own standards and data needs.
Hence, Eco-profiles need to change in response to best practices and stakeholder needs. That’s why we periodically seek stakeholder input on the Eco-profile methodology. Additionally, given the need for globally harmonised practices and comparable results, we welcome and actively invites liaison with other regional federations. The Eco-profile methodology aligns with other material- or sector-specific standards as a contribution towards shared best practices.
Plastics Europe participates in the Product and Organisation Environmental Footprint project led by the European Commission.
More information can be found here:
Plastics Europe considers the recognition and use of the ISO 140xx series of standards crucial when using Life Cycle Thinking in the decision-making processes involving environmental criteria.
ISO 14040: Environmental management – Life Cycle Assessment – Principles and Framework
ISO 14044: Environmental management – Life Cycle Assessment – Requirements and Guidelines
ISO 14021: Self-declared environmental claims – Type II Environmental Labelling
ISO 14025: Environmental labels and declarations – Type III Environmental Declarations
ISO 14067: Carbon Footprint of Products