According to ISO (1997 cited in Hendrickson, 2006) life cycle assessment “studies the environmental aspects and potential impacts throughout a product’s life from raw material acquisition through production, use, and disposal”. LCA helps to understand true and total cost associated with the manufacture of a product, its use and disposal. Environmental releases to air, water and land from each life cycle stage of a product can be quantified from life cycle assessment (ALCAS, n.d.; Environment Agency, 2011; RSC, n.d.). LCA contains three components: an inventory analysis, impact analysis, and an improvement analysis (Hendrickson, 2006; Svoboda, 1995).
Inventory is the data collection stage which assesses energy and raw material requirements and environmental pollution such as air emissions, solid waste disposal and waste water discharges throughout the life cycle of the product (ALCAS, n.d.; Svoboda, 1995). The stage involves construction of process maps or flow charts and establishing material and energy balance for each process.
Ecological, economical and socio-cultural impacts are assessed in life cycle impact analysis stage (Svoboda, 1995). Materials can be classified and categorized into different environmental impact categories. RSC (n.d.) referred the impacts as “environmental footprint” of the products or services. The final stage involves identification of quantitative and qualitative areas of improvement and environmental impact mitigation (Svoboda, 1995). Data collection for LCA is not an easy job and it is time consuming as well.
Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society (ALCAS). [Online] Available at http://www.alcas.asn.au/ [Accessed on 28 December 2012].
Environment Agency, UK (2011) Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006. [Online] Available at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/research/library/publications/129364.aspx [Accessed on 28 December 2012].
Hendrickson, C. T.; Lave, L.B. and Matthews, H.S. (2006) Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Goods and Services: An Input-Output Approach. Resources for the future, USA.
Royal Society of Chemistry (n.d.)Environment, Health and Safety Committee Note on: Life Cycle Assessment. [Online] Available at http://www.rsc.org/images/LCA_20100215_tcm18-97943.pdf [Accessed on 29 December 2012].
Svoboda, S (1995) Note on Life cycle analysis. [Online] Available at http://www.umich.edu/~nppcpub/resources/compendia/CORPpdfs/CORPlca.pdf [Accessed on 28 December 2012].