Life Cycle Assessment
How does one major material, such as PVC, compare on environmental grounds with alternative product performing a similar function? Such comparisons require a detailed 'cradle-to-grave' or ‘cradle to cradle’ assessment of product systems through all stages of their lives. Raw material extraction, product manufacture, use and ultimate disposal are all factors which need to be considered. These comparisons have come to be known as Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs).
LCAs are complex and are usually carried out by independent research organisations and LCA expert practitioners. Globally, at least 60 LCAs have been conducted on a range of PVC products since the mid 1980s. There is usually no clear ‘winner’ as all materials/products have strengths and weaknesses, but there are often some products that perform worse in all life cycle impact categories. To the best of our knowledge, assessments of PVC have never produced that outcome. The findings have generally been neutral to favourable for PVC.
Life Cycle Inventory for PVC
To complete a reliable LCA requires robust data, usually referred to as a life cycle inventory or eco-profile data.
For more than 15 years, the Australian PVC industry has made available local life cycle data for use as required in life cycle assessments and tools within the Australian market.
The Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society (ALCAS) is the peak body for LCA in Australia. It is one of the major partners in the development of AusLCI, the Australian Life Cycle Inventory database founded in 2006. Its aim is to provide a national, publicly-accessible database with easy access to authoritative, comprehensive and transparent environmental information on a wide range of Australian products and services over their entire life cycle.
In 2011/12, the data inventory for PVC resin manufactured in Australia went through a significant update and was since then communicated to ecolabel tools such as ecospecifier Green Tag. In 2014, the data was again reviewed and was submitted to AusLCI for inclusion in the dabase. After successfully going through the internal quality controls put in place by ALCAS, including a technical peer-review, the data has been uploaded to AusLCI and is now available to LCA specialists over the world.
European PVC industry life cycle inventory data is available at Plastics Europe. [http://www.plasticseurope.org/]. The European PVC industry has also prepared Environmental Product Declarations for PVC and a range of PVC products according to ISO guidelines and life cycle inventory data. Visit www.pvc.org for a copy.
American PVC industry life cycle inventory data is available from the American Chemistry Council's Plastic Division.