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EPA works to develop life cycle assessment.

model could become basis for corporate decision making and regulatory development

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to develop a life-cycle assessment (LCA) model for evaluating the cradle-to-grave environmental effects of products and processes. The EPA is testing the model in several case studies, one of which involves carpeting systems.

INDA has invited EPA representatives to outline the LCA model and the case studies based on that model during its 1993 Environment and Waste Management Conference to be held on June 16-17 at the Stouffer Concourse Hotel in Arlington, VA.

Life Cycle Assessments

As defined by the EPA, a life-cycle assessment (LCA) can be used for evaluating the environmental effects associated with any given activity between the point that raw materials are gathered from the earth until the time that all "residuals" are returned to the earth.

The EPA believes that one of the best applications for LCA's is as the basis of internal corporate decision making. That is, with an LCA, corporate management can evaluate both the upstream and the downstream environmental effects of any given activity - such as a proposed change to a manufacturing process or a change in a product distribution system - and compare them with those that would result from other potential alternatives.

In fact, during a recent public meeting on LCA issues held outside of Washington D.C., executives from Scott Paper and Coca Cola both stated that their companies are already using LCA's for this purpose. The EPA also anticipates the use of LCA's as the basis for regulatory development.

While the LCA concept has been in existence for more than 20 years, The EPA is undertaking this effort because it believes that there has not been a comprehensive attempt to facilitate understanding of basic components of the concept such as the overall process, the underlying data and the inherent assumptions involved in conducting an LCA.

Moreover, according to the EPA, there has been a "sharp increase" in the number of organizations conducting LCA's for a fee and the agency is concerned that results are being used fairly frequently to support claims about various products and processes, These claims are often used to gain a marketing advantage and, according to the EPA, are generally dependent on the interests of the organization sponsoring the assessment.

For these reasons, the EPA sees a need for "neutral, scientifically oriented, consensus-based guidelines" for conducting LCA's and is working in close cooperation with the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry to help ensure objectivity in their development.

Based on its initial work, the EPA has endorsed the following major stages in a life cycle: acquisition of raw materials, manufacturing, consumer use/reuse/maintenance and recycle/waste management. Additionally, the EPA has determined that LCA's should consist of three components - inventory analysis, impact analysis and improvement analysis. These components can be used to evaluate elements at any of the four stages of the life cycle.

Three Evaluation Components

According to the EPA, inventory analysis is the only component of LCA methodology that is generally well developed. Its use has been evolving through the past two decades.

Inventory analysis is a technical, data-based process used to quantify such things as the energy and raw materials requirements, solid wastes, air and water emissions and other environmental releases of a product, package, process, material or activity.

There are several basic steps in performing an inventory: defining the goals and system boundaries, gathering and developing data, presenting and reviewing data and interpreting and communicating results.

Flow diagrams and calculations are used to determine all of the resource requirements and environmental emissions (inputs and outputs) for the product or process under review.

The second component of an LCA, impact analysis, is used to "characterize and assess" the effects of the inputs and outputs identified in the inventory stage. This is a more subjective element of the LCA and its general methodology is in the early stage of development according to the EPA.

An example cited by the EPA of the difference bctween inventory and impact analysis has to do with acid rain. While the inventory analysis of the LCA w6uld determine the amount of sulfur dioxide released per product unit, the impact analysis would determine the potential for acid rain based on the sulfur dioidde release and the potential acidification of a lake that would likely result.

Improvement analysis, the third component, has not been widely discussed in a public forum, according to the EPA. It is, therefore, the least understood portion of LCA development.

Improvement analysis is defined as a systematic evaluation of the needs and opportunities to reduce the environmental burdens (such as energy or raw material consumption and waste emissions) throughout the entire hfe cycle of the product or process that is being evaluated. Improvement analysis may include both quantitative and qualitative measures of improvements.

Next Steps

There are numerous issues associated with each of the three components, as well as with the LCA concept in general.

To outline and address these issues, the EPA had developed a set of guidelines and principles regarding the first component - inventory analysis - late last year and intends to release guidance documents outlining the other two components at a later date.

The EPA is also developing guidelines on data availability and data quality issues associated with LCA's as well as guidance for streamlining life-cycle studi(!s.

Case studies are being conducted by EPA laboratolies in Cincinnati, OH and results are expected to be published this spring. INDA is particularly interested in the case study involving carpet systems since nonwovens are used extensively in the manufacture of carpet backings and pads.

INDA is also interested in the potential use of the EPA's LCA concept for determining the overall environmental impact of single-use versus reusable products as well as the possible use of LCA's by the EPA in its regulatory decision making.

Peter Mayberry is the director of government affairs for INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. He works out of the Washington, DC offices of Keller & Heckman, INDA's legal counsel. This Capital Comments column appears monthly in NONWOVENS INDUSTRY.
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Title Annotation:Capital Comments; Environmental Protection Agency, decision making model
Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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