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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • industrial ecology;
  • life cycle assessment (LCA);
  • Monte Carlo simulation;
  • plastic;
  • waste treatment

Summary

Carbon footprints for several shopping bag alternatives (polyethylene, paper, cotton, biodegradable modified starch, and recycled polyethylene) were compared with life cycle assessment. Stochastic uncertainty analysis was used to study the sensitivity of the comparison to scenario and parameter uncertainty. On the basis of the results, we could give only a few robust conclusions without choosing a waste treatment scenario or limiting the parameter space. Given the scenario of current waste infrastructure in Finland, recycled polyethylene bags seem to be the most preferable (−7 to 24 g CO2 eq./bag) and biodegradable bags the least preferable (38 to 60 g CO2 eq./bag) option. In each analyzed waste treatment scenario, a few parameters dominated the uncertainty of results. Most of these parameters were downstream of the shopping bag manufacturing (consumer behavior, landfill conditions, method of waste combustion, etc.). The choice of waste treatment scenario had a greater effect on the ranking of bags than parameter uncertainty within scenarios. This result highlights the importance of including several scenarios in comparative life cycle assessments.