- 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
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The disposal of outdated products has an impact on the environment which may include: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.
An LCA is carried out on plastic and paper shopping bags.
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.