Improved Environmental Performance of Products: Halocarbon Substitution, Packaging Development and Life Cycle Assessment
Substitution of halocarbons and development of packaging were studied as examples of a product-oriented approach to environmental protection. A contribution to the development of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology was made in order to assess the environmental performance of products.
Alternatives to halocarbons were identified for most applications. Tests of release agents for epoxy moulding resulted in a water-borne agent being identified as a suitable substitute for a conventional product containing halocarbon solvent. In laboratory tests, petroleum solvents were found to be the best alternative to halocarbons in dry cleaning of textiles sensitive to water. From 1986 to 1991, the reduction in the use in Sweden of ozone-depleting halocarbons was 75% (as ODP), mostly due to substitution. The decrease in the use of halocarbon solvents was 60% (w/w) during the same period, largely due to loss prevention.
The life cycle environmental performance of packaging for white goods was improved by 30% through redesign, as evaluated with the "Environmental theme method". A further 10% improvement was achieved by process improvements. Recycling of waste and introduction of reusable packaging were assessed further options. For high density polyethylene (HDPE) as packaging material, with no use phase included, material recycling (75%) was shown to improve environmental performance compared to landfilling by 30%.
It was shown to be of significant importance how the system boundaries between the life cycle of the studied product and the related life cycles of other products are chosen. Incineration with heat recovery was found to be equally good as recycling for HDPE, provided the waste being incinerated was assumed to replace fuel oil as an energy source for district heating. With renewable fuel as the competing energy source, recycling was found to be much superior to incineration. Practices regarding other important choices were reviewed, pertaining to: boundaries between the technosphere and nature; geographical area and time horizon; and whether or not to include the production of capital goods.
The relative environmental importance of pollutants was found to differ significantly in the "Ecological scarcity method", the "Environmental theme method" and the method for "Environmental priority strategies in product design", all being methods to be used in life cycle impact assessment. For example, the relative importance of CO2, SO2 and NOx for the three methods, based on Swedish data, was calculated as 1:200:250, 1:220:350 and 1:150:6100, respectively.