In recent years, policymakers have become increasingly reliant on the use of Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) to establish a proper basis for more transparent and evidence-based decisionmaking on policies and regulation. However, successful 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.

LCAs were originally devised as a means for businesses to identify hot spots and to leverage innovation in respect of a specific product and its development. In the policymaking process though, LCAs are instead used as a tool for comparison, specifically to evaluate diverse products or technologies that may not already have appropriate benchmarking. Here – and in particular when comparing innovations with established alternatives – significant challenges in terms of data availability and methodological choices are the norm rather than the exception.

In the separate datasets most commonly used for conducting LCAs on fossil-based and biobased plastics, substantial differences can be seen in the level of detail when considering input and output. These differences are also evident where datasets used to analyse the same products and processes are derived from the same primary data source. That said, comparative LCA studies that use different background databases can lead to misleading results and interpretations.