Are life-cycle assessments worth the (recycled) paper they’re printed on?

Developed to provide a blueprint for environmental action, LCAs often sow seeds of discord. What can be done to fix that?

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Photo © iStockphoto.com | Alessandro Biascioli
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Despite concerns about landfill waste, damage to ecosystems and often limited recycling options, disposable products have regularly been touted as the more environmentally friendly choice when compared with reusables. Photo © iStockphoto.com | worradirek
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In a recent report, LCA specialist Simon Hann offers suggestions for commissioners, practitioners and readers of LCAs to, among other things, help avoid drawing inaccurate or incomplete conclusions from executive summaries of the studies. Image from the report, “Plastics: Can Life Cycle Assessment Rise to the Challenge?”

“Rather than spending a lot of time going, ‘Well, how bad is it?’ maybe let’s just go, ‘Well, we know enough to know it’s bad. Let’s work on not doing it.’” — Simon Hann

What does this all mean for the public, on the receiving end of all the mixed messaging, especially during a global pandemic where questions of safety and risk are at the top of a lot of people’s minds?

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Ensia is a solutions-focused nonprofit media outlet reporting on our changing planet.

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