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Life cycle assessments are used to calculate the environmental impact of a product from the raw materials all the way through to disposal. At each stage, the energy used as well as the release of any waste material is assessed.
The four main stages which are taken into consideration are:
Each stage is given a %, and all the stages will add up to 100%. Then, the stage with the biggest impact can be analyzed so that changes can be made to reduce the overall impact of the product. For example, if disposal extraction and processing contributes a significant amount, then recycling can be beneficial – this is because recycling reduces the need to extract new raw materials from the Earth.
As non-renewable materials are now running out, we need to recycle more and use more renewable resources instead. Recycling means that our old items can be made into new ones, meaning that natural resources do not need to be extracted from the Earth.
Recycling also reduces the amount of rubbish in landfill sites. Once rubbish is in a landfill site it can take many years to rot away, and rubbish that is rotting adds even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Materials that can be recycled include paper, cardboard, plastic bottles (made from thermosoftening polymers), cans, glass, wood and metal. You can put garden waste into compost bins or the garden bin too.
Look out for recycling bins to help manage the Earth’s finite resources effectively.
Plastics are usually made from alkenes which ultimately come from crude oil, but crude oil is a finite resource. Therefore, alternative renewable plastics are being developed. One such example are bioplastics, which are made from plants such as sugarcane or potatoes. As plants can be regrown quickly, this is renewable. A lot of bioplastics are also biodegradable, but not all of them are.
However, growing the plants to make bioplastics takes up a lot of land, water, and energy. The land used also takes land away from food farming, which generates a food security issue. Therefore, bioplastics also have their downfalls, but are generally considered better than traditional crude oil-based plastics.
We should also find alternatives to fossil fuel use.
Personal fossil fuel use (for example, through travel and using energy in our homes) contributes to global warming, and this is called your carbon footprint. There are things that you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.