Life Cycle Assessments of Bioplastics: Applications and Issues

By James Michael Bier, C.J.R. Verbeek and M.C. Lay.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Bio-based and biodegradable plastic materials have been developed in response to multiple environmental concerns regarding widespread use of conventional polymers. It is important to evaluate new plastics’ environmental performance against conventional plastics they replace through techniques such as life cycle assessment (LCA). This paper reviews significant LCA studies of bioplastics and discusses issues encountered, including allocation difficulties for multifunctional processes, assumptions about energy and the differences between cradle to gate and cradle to grave studies.
Using renewable feedstock does not guarantee a plastic is environmentally friendly over its entire life cycle or even in just its production. For some fermentation based systems, considerable amounts of energy are used in the processes required to convert renewable biomass into a functionally equivalent alternative to petrochemical polymers. The sustainability benefits of using renewable feedstocks may be negated if this energy comes from non-renewable sources such as coal fired electricity. Using renewable energy sources, as well as renewable feedstocks, significantly improves eco-profiles of such bioplastics. Alternatively, direct modification of agro-polymers such as starch or protein, giving them thermoplastic properties, may use less energy than some fermentation based bioplastic technologies.

Keywords: Bioplastics, Biopolymers, Bio-based Plastics, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Cradle to Gate, Cradle to Grave, Allocation, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), Polylactide (PLA), Thermoplastic Starch (TPS), Thermoplastic Protein

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.145-158. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.667MB).

James Michael Bier

Doctoral Candidate, School of Engineering, University of Waikato, Hamilton, Waikato, New Zealand

James Bier completed his undergraduate studies in biochemistry at the University of Canterbury. After a detour through the advertising and software industries he embarked on the journey of postgraduate research in the School of Engineering at the University of Waikato. There he joined a team working with a new bioplastic produced by thermoplastic modification of animal protein derived from bloodmeal. He has recently been awarded a Masters of Science with First Class Honours and is now undertaking Doctoral Studies. His research interests include bioplastics, life cycle assessment, higher value applications for animal by-products and thermoplastic modification and thermal analysis of agro-polymers.

C.J.R. Verbeek

School of Engineering, University of Waikato, Hamilton, Waikato, New Zealand

M.C. Lay

School of Engineering, University of Waikato, Hamilton, Waikato, New Zealand


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