LCA comparative studies

Making Fair Comparisons between Alternative Materials

A scientifically-based life-cycle assessment (LCA) is the standardized method for fairly comparing the environmental impacts of different products across all stages of their life, from cradle to grave. 

A whole range of processes need to be assessed to calculate overall impacts, from the extraction of raw materials, to transforming them into products; continuing through the product’s transportation and installation, the product’s lifetime of use, and ultimately, the product’s disposal or re-processing at the end of life.

An independent comparative LCA study commissioned by TEPPFA (The European Plastic Pipes and Fittings Association), undertaken by the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) and critically reviewed by the Austrian sustainability consultancy Denkstatt, has confirmed that in general plastic is a better choice for pipe systems when compared to the alternative materials assessed.

All materials impact the environment to some extent but, across the whole range of applications, the study found that, on average, the use of plastic reduces the environmental footprint of pipe systems by about two thirds on average compared to alternative materials.

The findings of LCA assessments are typically published in the form of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to help communicate a product’s overall environmental impact.

The VITO study involved collecting data on plastic pipe systems from companies covering more than 50% of the European market.

The environmental impact of each pipe material was assessed against six different criteria across its full life cycle:

 
 

• Comparison studies are provided for information purposes only. The environmental impact analysis for alternative pipe materials has been calculated based on the same functional unit and category rules as used for the plastic pipe system to which it is compared. The analysis of the environmental impact of the comparison material has been based on publicly available data. 

• It should be noted that data relating to raw materials, manufacturing processes, system design, installation practice, etc. for alternative pipe materials has been taken from various publicly accessible sources. It is fully acknowledged that the comparison studies were conducted using environmental impact data not directly supplied by the competing materials, however the secondary data used is taken from established publicly available databases widely used by LCA practitioners. Whereas every effort has been made to ensure the integrity and validity of this data TEPPFA cannot accept any responsibility for any inaccuracies or omissions.

• As TEPPFA has made the results of the LCA comparison studies available for the general public, following the principles of ISO 14040- 2006 and ISO 14044- 2006, a critical review of the LCA study is required. Different to ISO requirements for comparative LCA studies TEPPFA did not install a review panel, but commissioned a single critical review. This critical review was performed by Denkstatt GmbH. A summary of their review is included at the end of each comparison report.