The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has had an impact on beverage containers for decades.
The LCA is used by many agencies, including environmental and beverage corporations, to evaluate the entire lifecycle of a beverage container. This means that the LCA looks at the resources and processes to create the container, how it is used and by whom, as well as where the containers end up when they have been used and discarded. This is important because it is necessary to know how beverage containers impact the environment. Environmental agencies are interested in the cost of these containers to the environment. Beverage corporations use this information to evaluate their costs and to improve efficiencies. LCA methodologies are also used to compare different beverage containers to determine those that have less impact on the environment.
The History of LCA
The first LCA completed was done in the early 1970’s by Harry Teasley Jr at Coca-Cola. This study was completed to evaluate the company’s compliance with regulations, identify opportunities to reduce waste and cut costs as well as look at the materials used to create the containers. The 1990’s brought about more LCA, this time completed by governments around the world. The Dutch Packaging Covenant has incorporated LCA into its policy, forcing beverage companies to use one-way containers that are less than or equal to the environmental impact of refillable containers.
How Does the LCA Work?
The life cycle of a beverage container evaluates the environmental impact and the resources required to produce beverage containers per packaged beverage. There are tons of resources that go into creating a beverage container. Consider the natural resources used; water, energy, minerals, timber, fuel and raw materials are among these. Now take into consideration how the environment is affected by extracting these resources and fabricating beverage containers. There is waste created, water pollution, air pollution, dust, as well as both hazardous and nuclear waste. Air pollutants include carbon dioxide, a green-house gas that is largely impacting the warming climate of the earth. With all of these negative elements, LCA studies are important to identify where changes need to be made.
The LCA takes into consideration the entire life-cycle of the beverage container, from beginning to end. This means the process of extracting the materials for creation, to the filling of the container, to the product’s refrigeration to the end of the container’s life. The end of life could be a re-wash and re-use container, a recycling center, an incinerator or into the landfill. This represents only a portion of the LCA, there are many other processes that are considered. There are many elements present in each process to consider; the amount of energy used, the percentage of containers recycled as well as the transportation of the product.
Because there are so many elements to take into consideration during an LCA, the results of each study vary significantly. The results of an LCA are often able to provide enough date to compare the impact of different beverage containers, however, the data typically does not prove that one container is superior over another. The most common elements evaluated are a beverage containers impact on air pollution, water pollution, solid waste and energy.
The data obtained by an LCA can further be applied within an Environmental Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA). This adds financial value to the environmental impact and the resources used to create beverage containers.
LCA Methodologies. There are critics of the LCA methodologies and many suggest that the studies are limited. Because not all of the processes involved in the life cycle of a beverage container are included some experts find the methodology flawed. Experts have suggested that comparisons between different recycling methods would help to support the data produced by the LCA.
One LCA study completed by the German Federal Environmental Agency found non-refillable cartons to be as environmentally friendly as refillable glass bottles. They represented only beverage packaging that was comparable to glass bottles after comparing plastic, glass, cans, and cartons.
LCA studies are important evaluation methods to apply to beverage containers. An LCA evaluates the beverage container’s environmental impact as well as the cost associated with production, delivery and recycling/disposal. This is important information to have because it provides environmental agencies as well as beverage corporations with the data needed to make informed decisions about beverage container production and distribution. Despite the concerns about the methodology of the LCA, there is no other methodology that can provide the comprehensive data needed to evaluate the impact of a beverage container on the evironment.