Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) As A Tool To Evaluate Single Use Bioplastic Utensils

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University of Guelph

Abstract

Bioplastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), have been proposed as feasible alternatives to petroleum-based plastics in food-related applications, including single-use utensils. The objectives of this study were to perform a cradle-to-grave life cycle analysis (LCA) of a food-related single-use item (fork) produced with two commonly used biopolymers PHA and PLA derived from three different feedstocks (corn, rapeseed, and sludge) to compare their environmental impact, identify critical steps in their production process to be improved, and recommend measures for more efficient production. Results show that both biopolymers had the same general impacts in most of the assessed categories. However, the type of feedstock used severely affected the extent of agricultural land transformation and terrestrial ecotoxicity observed, with corn-based bioplastic performing not as well compared to the rapeseed-based biopolymer. PHA, regardless of the feedstock, performed better than PLA in the human health and ecosystem toxicity categories (1.10 times less harmful). Still, the impact of PHA can be improved by process optimization. Reducing or changing the nitrogen source (e.g., ammonium sulfate) and solvent (ethanol) used in the fermentation stage could significantly minimize PHA’s impact.

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Keywords

Bioplastic, Sustainability, Plastic, PHA, PLA, Life cycle analysis, LCA, waste reduction, plastic waste, circular economy, biopolymer

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