Inderscience Publishers

Design for the environment: life cycle assessment and sustainable packaging issues

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As extended producer responsibility gains ascendancy in sustainable development, proper management of the life cycle of a product is becoming more and more important. This paper presents a general overview of product life cycle assessment (LCA) and sustainable product packaging over the last four to five years. The review of life cycle assessment includes on overview of LCAs conducted over the last six to seven years for a wide variety of products. The application of the LCA methodology to the formulation of regulatory and public policies, especially in the USA and the Netherlands, and the outcome of the five-year national Japanese LCA initiative, are presented. The key issues and limitations confronting LCA, notably the role of weighting factors, are summarised. Some of these include the unequal treatment of qualitative and quantitative measures and the absence of a semantic ontology to unify the practice. Finally, the merits and shortcomings of a streamlined (abridged) (SLCA) are briefly reviewed. The review of sustainable product packaging is confined to the LCA of packaging systems and new, innovative environmentally-benign packaging materials, for example, biodegradable agricultural (compostable) polymers. The outcome of any packaging LCA should always be interpreted in light of the prevailing technology and the function of the packaging. Also discussed are the life cycle assessment of some packaging systems, new active or intelligent packaging materials, and initiatives across the manufacturing and service industry at dematerialising packaging. The ramifications of the landmark EU Directive on Packaging Waste 94/62/EU and its corresponding regulations in EU member states and some reasons for the varying degrees of success are presented. A more wide-ranging integrated approach, encompassing economic, social and environmental considerations, in conjunction with more efficient packaging designs, which economise on material and are recyclable, is the key to sustainable packaging.

Keywords: product life cycle assessment, LCA, sustainable product packaging, waste management, producer responsibility, sustainable development, DFE, design for environment, streamlined LCA, abridged LCA, SLCA, packaging materials, packaging waste, packaging design, sustainable packaging, recycling

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