Life Cycle Assessment of Selected Single-Use Plastic Products towards Evidence-Based Policy Recommendations in Sri Lanka

In Sustainability
Volume (Issue): 14 (21)
Peer-reviewed Article

The global demand for plastic is expected to double in the next 20 years. The increasing demand for Single-Use Plastic Products (SUPPs) has become one of the main environmental problems in many developing countries, including Sri Lanka, through direct and indirect means, in the way of excessive consumption and the pollution of the environment through waste generation. In this way, there is a pressing need to accelerate the sustainability evaluation, comparison, impact mitigation, and policy recommendation of SUPPs to address environmental impacts and sustainable development. Therefore, this study aims to quantify and compare the environmental impacts of SUPPs for policy decision-making in Sri Lanka using life cycle assessment (LCA) techniques. Accordingly, the most popular and widely used single-use plastic products, which are under consideration for regulation in Sri Lanka, and their possible alternatives, are considered for this LCA study. The results reveal that SUPPs produced using polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) have a significant contribution in all life cycle stages, in terms of global warming potential (GWP) and endpoint impact categories. However, the outcomes of the study reveal that the net GWP impact of SUPPs that have recycling practices at the end of life shows better performance compared to incineration and landfill. In addition, the polylactic acid- (PLA)-based products also show a significant impact on mid- and end-point GWP impact categories. Remarkably, the midpoint analysis of PLA-based products and their alternatives emphasized that PLA production was the most impactful for most of the midpoint impact categories due to PLA resin production, which contributes significantly to all impact categories. In particular, for the pesticide bottles with the preferred end-of-life option of incineration, the HDPE indicates a 7.6% lower GWP compared to PET. For reusable steel cutlery, the largest GWP-associated life cycle stage is the user phase (97.5%), which includes cleaning the cutlery. However, the overall reduction in GWP in the use of steel, considering the best (PS with recycling) and worst (PS with incineration) case scenarios, with single-use items are 0.01 and 0.05 kg CO2 (eq), respectively. In the case of pesticide bottles, with the preferred end-of-life option being incineration, the HDPE indicates a 7.6% lower GWP compared to PET. the study reveals that conducting LCA will facilitate scientific decision-making for policy interventions related to SUPPs and their processes. Notably, the study shows that, at present, the capability of conducting LCA studies to evaluate the sustainability performance of SUPPs in Sri Lanka is limited due to the lack of life cycle inventory (LCI) data availability on SUPPs and relevant waste management practices in Sri Lanka.