A product’s life cycle is a key way to determine its sustainability. A life cycle assessment (LCA) can help determine if a product meets certain standards of sustainability.
Also referred to as cradle to grave analysis, LCA assesses and evaluates the environmental impacts associated with every stage of a product’s life, and even its very existence, including:
- Growing methods and management of raw materials
- Manufacturing processes
- Transportation and distribution
- Use, disposal and recycling
The recycling process can originate new, identical products (e.g., new PET plastic bottles from collected PET plastic bottles), or different products (e.g., reusable fiber tote bags from collected PET bottles).
Composting is a form of recycling where products are allowed to biodegrade (e.g. bioplastics in a municipal or commercially managed facility under optimum conditions, or pulp-based dinnerware in a home compost environment.) The compost can then be returned to the earth to encourage new crop growth, completing not only the product life cycle but the carbon cycle as well (carbon neutrality).
Additionally, Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) analyzes flows from and to nature for a product system, including inputs of water, energy, and raw materials, in addition to releases to air, land, and water. Also evaluated is the significance of potential environmental impacts.