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In our ever-growing quest for sustainability, understanding the environmental impact of products and services has become non-negotiable. Across different industries – from manufacturing and construction to logistics and automotive – stakeholders are increasingly seeking holistic insights into the environmental implications of their decisions, which has seen a steep growth in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).
Understanding Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)
Over recent years, LCA has become an essential tool for understanding the environmental impact of a product, materials, or a service throughout its lifespan. Often referred to as ‘cradle-to-grave’ analysis, LCA involves comprehensive evaluation of a product’s life cycle – starting from the extraction of raw materials to the end-of-life disposal or recycling.
By quantifying the environmental impact of a product’s life cycle, LCA will enable businesses to identify areas for potential improvement. According to many leading authorities, including the European Commission, LCA is based on four main phases:
1. Goal and Scope Definition: This defines the objective of the LCA and what it will cover, including the ‘functional unit’ being studied, the systems involved, and the boundaries of the study.
2. Inventory Analysis: Also known as Life Cycle Inventory (LCI), this stage involves collecting data on all inputs (like materials and energy) and outputs (like emissions) associated with each life cycle stage of the product.
3. Impact Assessment: This stage, known as Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA), involves calculating the potential environmental impacts based on the LCI data, covering aspects like global warming potential, ozone layer depletion, acidification, etc.
4. Interpretation: This final stage involves analysing the results and formulating recommendations based on the findings.
It is important to understand that conducting LCA is a meticulous process that requires expertise across several areas – including those relating to various industrial processes involved in manufacturing products, transport modelling and toxicity. As a result, businesses must be committed to investing heavily to conduct this analysis, and this would typically involve assembling a team of existing colleagues and external consultants who would be happy to work together.
This method has now become the go-to standard for evaluating and comparing the environmental footprint of different products or services, and therefore allowing more businesses to make informed decisions. In addition, ISO 14040 has been put in place to guide businesses on the correct principles and frameworks to conduct a LCA in the correct manner.
The role of pallets and pallet boxes
When it comes to the logistics industry, the role of plastic pallets and pallet boxes is pivotal. However, whilst plastic pallets are more sustainable than wooden pallets, these too have an environmental footprint that can be thoroughly assessed for more sustainable operations. This is where the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) becomes a vital instrument.
In the context of plastic pallets and pallet boxes, an LCA considers all stages of the lifecycle – from the extraction and processing of raw materials, manufacturing of the pallets and boxes, their distribution and use in logistics operations, to their eventual end-of-life treatment – and for the record all of our products can be recycled at the end of their working life.
To illustrate, the raw material extraction stage for plastic pallets and boxes primarily involves the extraction of crude oil, which is then processed to produce the plastic material. During manufacturing, this plastic is moulded into the desired shape to produce the pallets and boxes. Alternatively, the process of making a recycled plastic pallet will typically involve sorting, cleaning, shredding and melting the old plastic, before the moulding process takes place.
Following this, these products are distributed across various locations for use in logistics operations. After serving their purpose (for many years), they reach the end-of-life stage, and then the decision is taken whether to discard, recycle, or repurpose them, which will greatly influence their overall environmental footprint.
Partnering with responsible businesses
Whether or not you are able to conduct LCA, you can take pro-active steps to work with sustainable-focused businesses to enhance your own green credentials. For example, we are working hard to help our customers become more sustainable by offering the UK’s largest range of plastic pallets, pallet boxes, small containers, crates and trays. In fact, 93% of our plastic pallets are made from 100% recycled materials. In addition to this, we have operated our own recycling scheme since 2019 – the first of its kind across the industry. So far, we have recycled more than 1,018 tonnes of plastic – that’s the equivalent of around 185 truck loads – and we are incredibly proud of this feat.
In terms of our product range, we hold exclusive relationships with Europe’s best manufacturers, however, it is not just the quality of the products that are important to us – we also want to partner with like-minded sustainable-focused organisations that share similar values. One such company is Cabka, who we have worked alongside since 2003 – selling products such as the CabCube 3.0 4F and the Cabka Eco C5 3R.
Cabka states that transparency about a company’s carbon footprint is not only important for consumers, but for stakeholders too, and they continue to partner with “numerous market leaders to optimise the sustainability of their logistics chains”. As part of this, the company uses its own LCA tool (for all of its materials handling solutions) that “calculates CO₂ emissions, impact on human health, impact on ecosystem diversity, and impact on resource availability”. As part of Cabka’s data service, the company also offers to scale any “assessment from production to full product lifecycle. The data is easy to understand, highly customised, and ready for implementation”.
By investing in LCA, businesses can build a clearer picture of their environmental footprint and then implement measures that improve operations in terms of sustainability. This could span from product selection to the redesign of processes. However, utilising LCAs is not without its challenges. For example, accurate LCA studies rely heavily on the quality of data available and the proficiency of those analysing the results. The detailed analysis also requires considerable time and resources.
Despite these challenges, the benefits of LCA are substantial – but they shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. To improve sustainability across your business, it is also crucial to partner with responsible businesses and invest in environmentally friendly products and solutions.
goplasticpallets.com is on a mission to create responsible supply chains. We believe that by working together, we can build a better future for everyone. Sustainability is deeply ingrained across every aspect of our business. Interested to learn more? Contact our team on 01323 744057, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org