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Analyzing the environmental impacts of laptop enclosures using screening-level life cycle assessment to support sustainable consumer electronics

Author:
Meyer, David E., Katz, John P.
Source:
Journal of cleaner production 2016 v.112 pp. 369-383
ISSN:
0959-6526
Subject:
aluminum, bamboos, biobased products, biphenyl, bisphenol A, climate change, cradle-to-grave, electronics, environmental health, environmental impact, flame retardants, fossils, humans, industry, insulating materials, markets, models, phosphates, plastics, polylactic acid, product life cycle, styrene
Abstract:
The market growth of consumer electronics makes it essential for industries and policy-makers to work together to develop sustainable products. The objective of this study is to better understand how to promote environmentally sustainable consumer electronics by examining the use of various materials in laptop enclosures (excluding mounting hardware, internal components, and insulation) using screening-level life cycle assessment. The baseline material, is a fossil plastic blend of polycarbonate-acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Alternative materials include polylactic acid, bamboo, aluminum, and various combinations of these materials known to be currently used or being considered for use in laptops. The flame retardants considered in this study are bisphenol A bis(diphenyl phosphate), triphenyl phosphate, 9,10-dihydro-9-oxa-10-phosphaphenanthrene-10-oxide, and borax-boric acid-phosphorous acid. The Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and other environmental Impacts v2.1 was used for the assessment of impacts related to climate change, human and ecological health, and resource use. The assessment demonstrates that plastics, relative to the other materials, are currently some of the better performing materials in terms of having the lowest potential environmental impact for a greater number of impact categories based on product life cycle models developed in this study. For fossil plastics, the material performance increases with increasing post-consumer recycled content. To best characterize and improve the environmental sustainability of bio-based materials like polylactic acid, it will be necessary to better model end-of-life options for this application. The impacts of using pressed bamboo materials in laptop enclosures can be lessened by improving key sub-processes, such as strip gluing. The final issue highlighted by this study is the need to develop more sustainable alternatives for flame retardants and fillers because they can represent a significant portion of the cradle-to-grave life cycle impacts, even though they often constitute a small portion of the weight of the final product.
Agid:
6073365