Life cycle analysis may also be referred as life cycle assessment. It may be defined as a systematic tool or technique that evaluates the environmental aspects of a product as it gradually moves through all its stages of the life cycle. This implies the development from raw material extraction, through to the processing of the raw materials, manufacture of the final product, distribution of these products, their use, the repairs done to them and the maintenance that they require and lastly its disposal or recycling. The main importance of the LCA process is to reduce the environmental impacts of the products and services and also on making informed decisions. This is achieved by compilation of the relevant energy, the materials used as well as the environmental releases. These compilations are thereafter evaluated and the potential outcomes that are likely to be associated with this product are identified and thereby the decision making process becomes an informed one (Brower 1999).
Global footprint of products is an organization that develops and promotes the paraphernalia for the advancing sustainability. This involves setting ecological limits in the production of substances. Its main objective is to ensure a future where all humans can live well. They therefore work together with the LCA to ensure the environment is not completely destroyed by the processes involved in the manufacture and consumption of goods (Horne, R., & Grant, T. 2009).
LCA allows us to understand the impacts of the processes involved. This is because they enable us to know the true and total costs of the manufacture and design. This is both the monetary and the environmental costs that are involved. The LCA tends to outline the cost used in the processes and even the amount of energy used that in turn makes us knowledgeable of the value of the products (Carnegie Mellon University. 2008).
Moreover, using the environmental management as well as the LCA, there is a chance to improve profitability as other options of production may be adopted that are just as efficient but cheaper in cost. The LCA also plays a big role in the reduction of environmental pollution and resource use. This is achieved by creating alternative ways that can be used to produce the goods without really causing harm to the environment by emission of toxic wastes and substances. This ultimately changes the shifting in the environmental impacts.
There are two types of LCA; the Economic Input- Output LCA and the Process Based Assessment. The EIO aims to trace out the different resource needs and the environmental emissions that are associated with any specific product or service. EIO also tends to trace the economic transactions that are from a product or even a process as well as the manufacturing, transportation, mining and other related processes that are fundamental in the production of the product or service. This methodology was invented by Wassily Leontief more than a half a century ago. This model tends to classify the economy into sectors that interact to give a supply chain that satisfies the final demand. This model is usually presented in the form of matrix (Horne, R., & Grant, T. 2009).
Process- based LCA however, is centered on the scientifically the actual production process. For instance, by the checking of the mass and material balance, and other scientific characteristics. It requires the practitioner to collect all the required data on the energy and the resource inputs and also the environmental outputs that are involved in each segment of the life cycle. This model is thus a data, time, and cost intensive process.
The Process based LCA is a straightforward process, however, there are challenges due to the adequate data that is needed and the ill-defined boundaries. This makes it a strenuous exercise. However it is easy to interpret and to understand. The EIO on the other hand is a simple process to undertake, however, it is hard to interpret. This is because the entire economic sectors are involved and thus getting unbiased judgments is hard to achieve. It has to be noted however that most of the outcome values from the two models of LCA are often within the same grid of magnitude despite the significant differences in the models that are used.
There is a big difference between the plastic bag and the paper bag. Whereas 19.4% of paper is recycled, only 0.6% of plastic is recycled. Also, for a paper to be produced, 1680KJ of energy is required in the process, whereas in the manufacture of plastic, only 735KJ of energy is required in the production. Also, more solid, atmospheric and water borne wastes are emitted by the paper bag as compared to the plastic bag. However, there is lesser energy that is required in the recycling of the paper bag as compared to the energy that is required in the recycling of the plastic bags. From the above arguments, it is thus more preferable to use the plastic bags as compared to the paper bags. This is after the analysis of the outcomes of the environmental emissions (Institute for Lifecycle Environmental Assessment. 2004).
The LCA played a role in the analysis given of the different types of bags that were discussed above. It is thus true that the LCA can help a great deal in the decision making process as at the moment, most people after reading the excerpt, they will know of the benefits that the plastic bag has over the paper bag thereby making a very informed decision. This will automatically affect the personal and corporate consumption of the product.
Horne, R., & Grant, T. (2009). Life cycle assessment principles, practice, and prospects. Collingwood, Vic.: CSIRO Pub.
Life - cycle cost analysis the Georgia experience. (2007). Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Office of Asset Management.
Brower, M and Warren L. ( 1999). The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. Three Rivers Press. New York.
Carnegie Mellon University. (2008). Economic Input-Output Lifecycle Assessment. Retrieved October 13, 2013 from http://www.eiolca.net/index.html.