No, not an analysis of your life at the moment. In simple terms, a life cycle analysis is a look at any product—from its raw materials and how they are gathered, processed, and formed into the next stage, right through to how they are disposed of.
Very few products go through a life cycle analysis because, if done correctly, they are very time consuming and can be quite complicated. Firstly, there are the raw materials (each and every one)— not only the material itself but how much energy is required to extract it. Secondly, any further processing is investigated for each stage, e.g., are other chemical reactions needed to get the desired chemical? This process continues through each stage in the product’s life, including how it is stored and any resources needed to use it, e.g., a concentrated product will need to be mixed with water. For each stage in its life everything must be looked at, whether it’s the energy required to use it or destroy it or what it breaks down into during disposal and when released into the environment.
The key here is that so many products are created without full life cycle analysis, and thus how they interact with the environment or how many further resources they will take is unknown. This means that products are released into the marketplace without knowing the consequences. Silicone, for example, has become the replacement for many plastics. However, whilst very useful there are no known biological degradation pathways. Therefore, when they enter the environment they will last forever.
Now you could take the time and research every product you use, but you’d soon find that this takes a lot longer than you think and in some cases is not possible (i.e., secret ingredients). There are simpler ways. Making your own products from simple ingredients or choosing off-the-shelf products made with natural ingredients will mean that they will biodegrade. Items made from renewable resources are also likely to have a less complicated and lower energy intensive acquisition journey. Organic and/or local is another good way to go to.
Think of it like this: fewer ingredients (not just in our food), all-natural ingredients, ingredients requiring little treatment to be used will all mean that the end product has a less complicated life cycle. It will also mean they are more likely to be environmentally friendly and biodegradable.
If you had to choose one product you use regularly to do a life cycle analysis of, which would you choose and why? Do you think it would have a simple life cycle? Depending on their impact would you continue to use the product?
You might also be interested in these other OPP stories: