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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 .

Emily Townsend.jpg

Emily Townsend

Life Cycle Association of NZ

With a background in the construction materials sector and experience in continuous improvement, I am passionate about enhancing outcomes and reducing impacts to improve sustainability performance. I am an active practitioner with thinkstep-anz, supporting clients with LCA and EPD projects to provide robust, transparent information, inform design, and support better decision making. As the current president of LCANZ, I look forward to working with all members to enhance our community of practice.

Joanne Duncan.jpg

Joanne Duncan

Life Cycle Association of NZ

Joanne is currently secretary of LCANZ . She has done post graduate study on life cycle assessment
methodology, zero waste, product stewardship and the circular economy. She is passionate about
sustainability in business and considers life cycle thinking and methodology provide an important
insight and base to promote product stewardship. She is particularly interested in incentives which
will encourage businesses and consumers to take responsibility for environmental impacts over
product life cycles. Education to promote behaviour change is important and would be a good place
to start. She is a member of wasteMINZ and of course the Zero Waste Network .


Life Cycle Association of NZ

Life Cycle Association of New Zealand (LCANZ) provides a focal point for Life Cycle Assessment and Management work conducted in New Zealand.It aims to promote networking and knowledge sharing between organisations and people. It  also promotes and raises awareness of Life Cycle Thinking amongst the wider public and business.

Life Cycle Association of New Zealand (LCANZ) committee – Emily Townsend (President), Joanne Duncan (Secretary), Adam Schofield (Treasurer), Barbara Nebel, Shreyasi Majumdar, AJay Morris, Ferran de Miguel Mercader, Kelly McClean, John McArthur

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