Total Environmental Impact

  • A life-cycle assessment (LCA) is an analysis of the overall environmental impact that a product may have throughout its lifetime.
  • The cycle is broken down into four main stages which are:
    • Raw Materials
    • Manufacture
    • Usage
    • Disposal

Life Cycle Assessment - Flow Diagram, IGCSE & GCSE Chemistry revision notes

Diagram showing the four main stages in a life-cycle assessment

  • Obtaining the necessary raw materials has an impact on the environment which may include:
    • Using up limited resources such as ores and crude oil.
    • Damaging habitats through deforestation or mining.
  • Manufacturing processes also have an impact on the environment which may include:
    • Using up land for factories.
    • The use of fossil fuelled machines for production and transport.
  • Usage of a product may also affect the environment although it depends on the type of product. For example, a wooden desk has very little impact whereas a car will have a significant impact (air pollution).
    The disposal of outdated products has an impact on the environment which may include:

    • Using up space at landfill sites.
    • Whether the product or its parts can be recycled.
  • A life cycle assessment is carried out using the data of a given product and the criteria of the assessment.
  • Rarely is there a perfect product with zero environmental impact, so often a compromise is made between environmental impact and economical factors.

Life Cycle Assessment of Shopping Bags

Example
An LCA is carried out on plastic and paper shopping bags.

Lifecycle Assessment of Shopping Bags Table, IGCSE & GCSE Chemistry revision notes

Conclusion

Considering both life-cycle assessments, the plastic bag is the better option. Even though they aren’t biodegradable, they do have a much longer lifespan and thus are less harmful than paper bags.

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Morgan Curtin Chemistry

Author: Morgan

Morgan’s passion for the Periodic Table begun on his 10th birthday when he received his first Chemistry set. After studying the subject at university he went on to become a fully fledged Chemistry teacher, and now works in an international school in Madrid! In his spare time he helps create our fantastic resources to help you ace your exams.