LCA reveals true environmental friendliness of plastics

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November 30, 2006
Environmentally-friendly packaging solutions made from renewable resources have been in the headlines for several years, but a recent study says the amount of plastics in packaging is often more important than the source of raw materials used to make the polymer. According to a new lifecycle analysis (LCA) commissioned by the Athena Institute and reviewed by The ULS Report (Rochester, MI), many sustainability claims are not supported by fact.
The study examined the energy used, waste created, and greenhouse-gas emissions generated by a number of common packages made from plastics, including drinking cups, beverage bottles, and meat trays. Packages made from polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and polyester (PET) were compared to the same types of packaging made from polylactic acid polymer (PLA), which derives its raw material from corn (maize) rather than petroleum.
Bob Lilienfeld, editor of The ULS Report, says the study covered all process steps from production of the raw materials (growing vs. extracting oil and natural gas) and continued through processing, logistics, and fabrication of the finished packaging.
Lilienfeld says scientific evidence does not support the public’s expectation that PLA packaging is more environmentally friendly than traditional petroleum-based plastics. Data showed that packages weighing less often use less energy to be produced and generate less waste regardless of whether they are plant-based or petroleum-based plastics.
“The study illustrates one of the keys to increasing sustainability is to minimize packaging weight,” he says. “In the end, the package that weighs less is usually the best choice for the wallet and the environment.”—[email protected]
 

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