Paper vs Leaf: Comparative Life Cycle Assessment Of Single-use Plates Made Of Renewable Materials

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper

Abstract: Global plastic pollution of the natural environment is extremely detrimental as it is causing deaths of animal species. More than 80 % of marine litter is made up by plastics and 70 % of those are made up by disposable items. For this reason, the European Parliament has agreed to abolish the top ten single-use plastic items found in the marine environment from the EU market from 2021. Therefore, the fossil-based disposables will need to be substituted by disposables made from renewable materials. It is thus important to investigate the environmental impact of these alternatives through their life cycle in order to support sustainable consumption and production. In this study, environmental impact of disposable plates made from two different renewable materials (paper and leaf) were analysed by means of life cycle assessment (LCA). The aim of the study was to examine the environmental performance of the two plates in the impact category global warming potential (GWP); and reveal the processes with the largest contributions to the overall GWP of each plate. The leaf plate was produced in India and the paper plate in the Nordics, however, both plates were used and disposed of in Uppsala, Sweden. The results showed that the leaf plate has a higher GWP due to its long-distance transport and electricity use derived from fossil fuels. Scenario analysis has proved that its GWP can be reduced when sea transport route is chosen instead of flying and production is increased. When it comes to the paper plate life cycle, the processing stage was identified to contribute the most to the total GWP. It could be further improved by applying a biodegradable layer for its coating. To keep the good performance in GWP the plate should be incinerated with energy recovery. The disposal of the plates has a substantial positive influence on their total carbon footprint as both plates substitute use of fossil fuels. However, the credits allocated for the different waste management options are specific to Uppsala and thus the results of this study should be applied only under similar conditions.

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