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Challenges of conducting a life cycle assessment for bio-based materials using a cotton example

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2018 ASABE Annual International Meeting  1800013.(doi:10.13031/aim.201800013)
Authors:   Edward M. Barnes, Jesse S. Daystar, Michele L. Wallace
Keywords:   Cotton, life cycle assessment, LCA, sustainability.

Abstract. There is growing interest in the use of life cycle assessment (LCA) techniques to compare raw materials used in consumer goods either in the context of designing a product to meet certain environmental performance metrics or in marketing the product to the end consumer. It is difficult to make such comparisons between biologically versus synthetically derived raw materials (e.g., a bio-based versus petroleum fuel; or natural versus synthetic fiber). This paper reviews such challenges in the context of global LCA conducted to characterize the environmental impacts of cotton apparel products (t-shirt, knit collared shirt, and casual pants), including the life cycle phases of fiber production, textile manufacturing, consumer use and disposal. Challenges regarding the assessment of water, modeling of waste emissions, biogenic carbon and co-product allocation are considered. Overall, LCA is a valuable tool to explore the potential environmental impact of an agricultural product and identify environmental hotspots, but the use of LCA comparisons between products derived from an agricultural raw material versus a synthetic raw material still has challenges and may only be feasible for a limited number of impact metrics.

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