Plastic Litter in Life Cycle Assessment: Advances of the Marine Impacts in Life Cycle Assessment International Taskforce

Main Presenter:    Elena Corella-Puertas 

Co-Authors:   Anne-Marie Boulay     Ian Vazquez-Rowe      Francesca Verones      Jérôme Lavoie                              

After the publication of a first framework detailing the assessment of marine plastic litter in life cycle impact assessment [1], the Marine Impacts in Life Cycle Assessment (MarILCA) working group has made concrete advancements in various stages of the impact modelling. This work provides an overview of the projects that were led by the working group as a way of providing an update on recent advancements, available methodologies, main challenges, and upcoming work.

For microplastic particles, the development of effect and fate factors have led to the publication of the comprehensive set of characterization factors (CFs) for physical effects on biota, leading to impacts on ecosystem quality [2]. In parallel, various other research projects are focusing on deepening the fate processes, while other specific case studies are being led to foster the development of the methodology. Furthermore, the case of other substances contained within plastic products have also led to the development of additive-specific effect factors [3]. Impacts of macroplastics are also being tackled [4] and the modelling of impacts of plastic litter on other areas of protection, like human health and socio-economic assets is also underway, or partially completed. CFs are available to quantify the abiotic depletion impact of marine plastic litter [5].

The addition of plastic impacts in LCA is not without its challenges. Access to data is an important issue in the field, as data is developed simultaneously as the impact metrics are developed. Important tasks remain, namely the fate of additives, and the ability of plastic litter to act as vectors for other pollutants. Yet, the developed metrics have been tested in case studies which will be presented and provide a first look at how impacts from plastic litter may compare to other impact categories considered in LCA. Results from these have also allowed the identification of important remaining challenges. The past years have led to significant steps in the quantification of plastic litter impacts, mainly in the marine environment and it is expected that the next two years should allow the quantification of the main impact pathways identified within the first framework.

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