Life Cycle Thinking , Life Cycle Assessment & transitioning to a Circular Economy
By Joanne Duncan & Emily Townsend
The Life Cycle Association of NZ (LCANZ) recently released a discussion paper “Life Cycle Thinking ( LCT), Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and transitioning to a Circular Economy”. We would like to present this paper and emphasise concepts and tools relevant to the Summit theme “Design for Zero Waste”. In particular • designing out waste using the tools LCT and LCA emphasizing the importance of monitoring designs to avoid trading off one environmental impact for another • the relevance of LCT and LCA to the design of Product Stewardship schemes The discussion paper looks at the intersection between Life Cycle Thinking (LCT), Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Circular Economy (CE). CE provides a strategic framework for closed-loop material flows and a gateway to LCT, whilst LCA complements CE by assessing environmental impacts. As Aotearoa New Zealand transitions from a linear ‘take-make-waste economy’ to a Circular Economy ‘take-make-return” it will become increasingly important to assess change impacts, avoid burden shifting and understand trade-offs. Designing out waste using LCT and LCA LCT maps the product life cycle from extraction of raw materials, production, distribution, customer use to end of life. LCA measures environmental impacts such as carbon footprint, air pollution, water pollution and non-renewable resource consumption. When designing out waste or pollution, for example in a production process, LCA can be used to calculate environmental impacts before and after the changes. The before and after comparison can highlight any burden shifting of impacts and so ensure there are no trade- offs to other stages of the life cycle. For projects designing out waste it is important to include LCT and LCA, at the initial stages, as it sets out the goal and scope of a project which ensures reliable and comparable results. To “design out waste’ means to ensure effective re-use, recycling or composting at the end-of-life including consideration taken to maintain material quality and avoid ‘downcycling’. Applications of LCT and LCA to current issues will be discussed, for example the comparison of single use vs reusable products and the use of bottle washing plants to keep bottles in circulation. Design of Product Stewardship(PS) Schemes The mandatory product stewardship scheme proposed in NZ would benefit from life cycle input at the design stage. In the proposal under “co-design regulated approach" LCT could identify stakeholders required to collaborate along the product life cycle and LCA could monitor outcomes .