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Life cycle assessment of carrier bags and development of a littering indicator

Civancik-Uslu, Didem, Puig, Rita, Hauschild, Michael, Fullana-i-Palmer, Pere
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.685 pp. 621-630
beaches, biodegradability, life cycle assessment, marine environment, models, paper, plastic bags, polyethylene, risk, wastes, Spain
Increased plastic consumption has resulted in high amounts of plastic waste ending up in the environment. Recently, the European Commission (EC) has identified a list of single-use plastics, including plastic bags, most commonly found in the European beaches. As a response, alternatives for plastic carrier bags have been more of a concern. Many life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have been performed to evaluate the environmental profile of different carrier bags; however, without considering the possibility of contribution to the littering problem. Therefore, in this study, an indicator has been introduced, based on an LCA study of carrier bags which was performed in Spain. The indicator is influenced by parameters such as: number of bags to fulfill the functional unit, weight, surface, fee, and biodegradability. In this paper, a comparative LCA of HDPE, LDPE, PP, paper and biodegradable plastic bags is presented. Following that, a littering indicator is introduced to allow a comparison of the risk of littering of the different carrier bags in marine environment. The results given by the Littering Potential indicator rank the bags oppositely to the results given by the LCA as usual. Further research is needed to refine the model and include additional contributing variables.