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Reducing environmental impact is increasingly important for all organisations. Now the European methacrylates industry has produced its first combined LCA for MMA produced via the ACH route, which includes an environmental product declaration. Generated using state-of-the-art methodology, the benefits of this brand new LCA to us, as producers, and to our customers, as users, are far reaching. Lucite International’s (LI) Global Sustainability Manager, Andy Bragg considers the importance of this huge step forward for our industry.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one means of helping to build a picture of what happens throughout the life of a product; from obtaining raw materials to creation, right through to end of life, when it is either recycled or disposed of.

Andy said: “As part of a CEFIC Methacrylates industry group sponsored study, the three key MMA producers in Europe – including LI – have each carried out individual studies to generate LCAs for their products. Independent of this work PlasticsEurope decided to update the information held in its EcoProfile database using the latest methodology and standards. We were than able to volunteer our studies as an early entry into the database revision, which Plastics Europe used to produce a single European LCA report for Methyl Methacrylate. We’re delighted to be able to announce that this externally verified report is now available to view in full at: http://www.plasticseurope.org/plasticssustainability/eco-profiles.aspx.” The PlasticsEurope report is also available to download from the LI EAME Monomers website.

Why is this such good news for us all those who work with MMA?
The European Union is working towards all materials having an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). An EPD is a verified document that captures a product’s environmental data based on LCA and other relevant information in accordance with the international standard ISO14025 (Type III Environmental Declarations). Andy continued: “The EPD sits alongside the REACH Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and Technical Data Sheet (TSD) to provide a comprehensive view of the safety, health and environmental characteristics of that product. If you are carrying out your own LCA for products that you manufacture then the new MMA LCA, produced to the latest standard, can be used as a building block towards this.”

More sophisticated LCA approach uncovers MMA’s lead performance
PlasticsEurope last collected information on acrylics for its EcoProfile database in the mid 1990s. Since then much has changed. LCA methodology has being expanded and enhanced, new international standards have been implemented, background information on feedstocks and the environment impact of emissions has significantly increased and manufacturing conversion and energy efficiencies have improved. As a result the completion of an externally validated LCA represents a more complete and accurate summary of the environmental impact of the product under consideration. From the new MMA LCA report the environmental impact most commonly considered is the Global Warming Potential (GWP) – also commonly referred to as the ‘carbon footprint’. The EPD for MMA manufactured in Europe reports that the GWP is about 3.5kg CO2/kg of MMA. This compares to GWP values of 4.1kg CO2/kg for polycarbonate and 2.25kg CO2/kg for polystyrene.

Is LCA alone enough to make a comparison?
Andy commented: “GWP, or carbon footprint, is just one indicator that can be used to compare alternative products. However, to fully assess a material, a range of indicators must be taken into account, some of which are not easily available in the public domain. For example, there has been a trend towards bio-based products as these can reduce carbon footprint. At first glance, this may appear to be positive as it achieves the desired move away from reliance on fossil based feedstocks. However, if the bio-feedstock is made from materials that might otherwise have been destined for the food chain, or is produced on land reclaimed from virgin forest, or it results in additional water usage then the real benefits become more questionable. So, while understanding the product carbon footprint is a key component in making a comparison, it is essential that it is used in conjunction with all additional information, which is assessed in an LCA, to ensure a comprehensive view.”

So what comes next?
Andy concluded: “The plan is to revise the MMA LCA data every four years, with the expectation that the on-going energy efficiency improvements and continuing technology advancements will contribute towards a lowering of the LCA number over time. Over the next three to four years, the LCAs for all plastics will be updated and made available on the Plastics Europe website, which is public domain data.”