Technological watch

Environmental Impacts of End-of-Life Options of Biobased and Fossil-Based Polyethylene Terephthalate and High-Density Polyethylene Packaging

Plastic waste production increasingly causes environmental pollution. However, end-of-life (EoL) research often lacks detail and timeliness and fails to integrate the end-of-life option into a product’s life cycle in a systemic perspective. This study addresses these knowledge gaps, by applying an improved anticipatory consequential life cycle assessment (LCA) approach. Reuse, mechanical and chemical recycling options were compared for (biobased and fossil-based) high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic shampoo bottles in the European context using three types of impact categories: climate change, fossil resource scarcity and mineral resources scarcity. The completeness and detail of EoL were increased by modelling the polymer reprocessing within the collection system including all transport distances, while timeliness was improved by implementing the data applicable for the time of implementation of EoL options in the future. The results show that the reuse option has the largest benefits on climate change impact, and on fossil and mineral resource scarcity for both HDPE and PET, for both biobased and fossil plastics. Furthermore, all EoL options cause a net reduction in all climate change, fossil and mineral resource scarcity thanks to the avoided impact of virgin plastic. Finally, the improved LCA approach, utilized in this study, includes plastic production, use and EoL in one assessment, and thus can provide valuable information for adjusting policy and regulations for plastic manufacturers in their production of new virgin plastic polymer, as it requires alignment with its use and EoL options.

Publication date: 15/09/2022

Author: Roel J. K. Helmes

Reference: doi: 10.3390/su141811550

MDPI (sustainability)


This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 837761.