Life Cycle Impacts

LCA is a methodology for assessing the environmental performance of materials, assemblies and even whole structures over the course of their entire lives, from extraction through manufacturing, transportation, installation, use, maintenance and disposal or recycling. Impacts are measured in terms of a wide range of potential effects, such as :

  • Fossil fuel depletion
  • other non-renewable resource use
  • Water use
  • Fossil fuel depletion
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion
  • Ground level ozone (smog) creation
  • Neutrification/eutrophication of water bodies
  • Acidification and acid deposition (dry and wet)
  • Toxic releases to air, water and land

excerpt take from one of the authorities of lifecycle assessments, the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute

Facts from the Global Development Research Centre

  • The UN Development Program (UNDP) estimates that more than five million people die each year from diseases related to inadequate waste disposal systems
  • At least 60% of the countries that submitted national reports to the United Nations in advance of the 1992 Earth Summit said that solid waste disposal was among their biggest environmental concerns.
  • Industrialized countries generate more than 90% of the world’s annual total of some 325-375 million tons of toxic and hazardous waste, mostly from the chemical and petrochemical industries.
  • Most countries in the developed world only introduced laws to control hazardous waste disposal in the 1970s and are left with a vast heritage of pre-legislation sites. Nearly 2% of North America’s underground aquifers may be contaminated by such dumps. Germany has identified 35,000 problem sites; Denmark has 3,200 and the Netherlands 4,000. (The CRI Council will seek to learn more about such sites in North America and elsewhere)

Landfill Gas

One tonne of waste tipped in a landfill produces between 200 and 400 cubic metres of landfill gas. Methane is about 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide and allowing methane to escape into the atmosphere has significant global warming implications. Read more:

Landfill Leachate

During landfill site operation, a liquid known as  ‘Leachate’ is produced. This is a mixture of organic degradation products, liquid waste and rain water. Leachate is extremely variable in composition depending on the nature of the waste in the landfill and the landfill design, but typically it has high organic carbon content, high concentrations of nitrogen and is usually slightly acidic.   Landfills are designed and operate to seal the waste as much as possible from the surrounding environment. Central to this environmental protection is avoiding groundwater contamination.


Greenhouse Gases:

Global warming, climate change, ozone depletion, sea level rise, biodiversity are all affected, one way or another, directly or directly, by harmful ‘greenhouse’ gases. A number of human activities, processes and consumptions produce waste gases that are harmful to the environment. They include:

Fuel combustion, Energy industries, Manufacturing industries and construction, Transport, Fugitive emissions from fuels, Solid fuels, Oil and natural gas
Mineral products, Chemical industry, Metal production, Production of halocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride, Consumption of halocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride, Solvent and other product use, Enteric fermentation, Manure management, Rice cultivation, Agricultural soils, Prescribed burning of savannas, Field burning of agricultural residues, Solid waste disposal on land, Wastewater handling. Waste incineration.   Much of these harmful gases, natural and man-made, were targeted for reduction during the recently concluded COP3 conference in Kyoto. A brief description and effects of six gases are given below:

Carbon dioxide (CO2):
A naturally occurring gas produced by living organisms and fermentation, CO2 is also produced by the combustion of carbonaceous fuels. A normal component of the breath we exhale, it is hazardous in concentrated volumes.   CO2 emissions from fuel burning, responsible for about 87 percent of global warming, have increased by about 27 percent since the industrial revolution.   Global CO2 production from fuel burning in 1995 was about 22 billion tonnes.

Nitrous Oxide (N2O):
naturally occurring from microbial action in soil, N20 is also produced by fuel burning. Scientists say its production is increased by the use of nitrogen based fertiliser in agriculture, as well as by the use of catalytic converters in automobiles.   Global Warming Potential: 170 to 190 times greater than that of CO2.

A naturally occurring, flammable gas, methane is caused by geological coal formations and by the decomposition of organic matter. Leading man-related sources arelandfills; livestock digestive processes and waste, especially ruminants (cud-chewing animals); and wetland rice cultivation. Global warming potential: About 24 times higher than that of CO2.

Hydrofluorocarbon gases (HFC):
Man-made specialty gases developed as an alternative to ozone-eating chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), the coolant, cleaning, and propellant gases were blacklisted internationally in 1987. Because they do not possess chlorine, HFCs do not directly destroy ozone in the earth’s atmosphere. They do, however, contribute to global warming. Principle uses: refrigeration; as agents used to blow foams or insulation; solvents or cleaning agents, especially in semi-conductor manufacturing.   Global warming potential: 4,000 to 10,000 times that of CO2.

Perfluorocarbons (PFC), or Perfluorocompounds:
Man-made replacement gases for CFCs but result also as a by-product of aluminium smelting. PFCs also used as a purging agent for semi-conductor manufacture and small amounts are produced during uranium enrichment processes.   Global warming potential: 6,000 to 10,000 that of CO2.

Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6):
Very low atmospheric concentration makes it an ideal test gas for gas concentration monitors. Principle uses: insulating material for high-voltage equipment like circuit breakers at utilities. Also used in water leak detection for cable cooling systems. SF6 is a man-made gas.   Global warming potential: 25,000 times that of CO2.

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