In recent years, policy makers have become increasingly reliant on the use of Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) to establish a proper basis for more transparent and evidence-based decision-making on policies and regulations. However, succesful LCAs must take into account a number of considerations in terms of how they influence the final result and policy support. These include data availability and quality, modelling approaches, methodological choices and uncertainty analysis.
European Bioplastics (EUBP) has put together a paper outlining challenges in using LCA methodology to evaluate innovative technologies.
For a sound LCA comparison of bio-based plastics with other plastic materials (e.g. fossil, recycled, CO2-based feedstock), EUBP recommends:
- EU and international climate targets should be taken into account when benchmarking innovative plastics against conventional plastics. LCA studies should consider analysing innovative solutions in combination, and should seek to establish the best case scenario and conditions to achieve the cliate change targets, comparing against the conventional material offerings that still predominatate the market today.
- Future improvements in the efficiency of bio-based plastics – in terms of feedstock sourcing, production, conversion, and end-of-life options – need to be adequately considered and forecast through the application of appropriate assumptions and modelling approaches. The underlying disparities should be described in the LCA’s scope, interpretation and evaluation.
- Fossil- and bio-based plastics datasets must be brought to the same level of quality in terms of completeness, system boundaries, regional scope, transparency and modelling rules. Furthermore, they need to be made available via public databases. Data also needs to be compared at an equal scale; in the case of innovative technologies/industries operating at smaller scale, data needs to be equalised to take into account potential future maturing/development.
- The uptake of atmospheric carbon and release of biogenic carbon should be included in the appropriate phase of the product’s LCA. The uptake and release of biogenic carbon needs to be included in the LCA impact category of greenhouse gas emissions.
- A balanced approach needs to be adopted to address indirect negative impacts as well as indirect positive impacts. All compared materials (independent and feedstock) or products should be scrutinised for such effects, to ensure a level playing field.
- The selected end-of-life option needs to be realistic and product-specific.
For further information, you can read the paper here.