Inclusion of multiple climate tipping as a new impact category in life cycle assessment of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA)-based plastics

Eldbjørg Blikra Vea*, Serena Fabbri, Sebastian Spierling, Mikołaj Owsianiak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

The merits of temporary carbon storage are often debated for bio-based and biodegradable plastics. We employed life cycle assessment (LCA) to assess environmental performance of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA)-based plastics, considering multiple climate tipping as a new life cycle impact category. It accounts for the contribution of GHG emissions to trigger climate tipping points in the Earth system, considering in total 13 tipping elements that could pass a tipping point with increasing warming. The PHA was either laminated with poly(lactic acid), or metallized with aluminum or aluminum oxides to lower permeability of the resulting plastics toward oxygen, water vapor and aromas. The assessments were made accounting for potential differences in kinetics of evolution of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4) from bioplastic degradation in the end-of-life. Results show that: (1) PHA films with high biodegradability perform best in relation to the climate tipping, but are not necessarily the best in relation to radiative forcing increase or global temperature change; (2) sugar beet molasses used as feedstock is an environmental hot spot, contributing significantly to a wide range of environmental problems; (3) increasing PHA production scale from pilot to full commercial scale increases environmental impacts, mainly due to decreasing PHA yield; and (4) further process optimization is necessary for the PHA-based plastics to become attractive alternatives to fossil-based plastics. Our study suggests that multiple climate tipping is a relevant impact category for LCA of biodegradable bioplastics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number147544
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume788
Number of pages19
ISSN0048-9697
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Bioplastic
  • Circular economy
  • Climate tipping points
  • Sustainability
  • Waste management

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