NOVEMBER 2009

Plastics scorecard evaluates environmental impact

A new tool for those looking to replace harmful plastics with more environmentally-friendly alternatives is available.

The “Plastics Scorecard,” developed by Clean Production Action and Pure Strategies, charts a course for manufacturers, purchasers and government agencies to evaluate various plastics based on their impact across their lifecycles – from feedstock production and manufacturing to use and disposal.

While plastics are an essential material used in many products, they often rely on non-renewable resources; are manufactured with toxic chemicals that can be released into homes, offices and cars; and typically contain little to no recycled content. States across the nation have enacted or are considering legislation aimed at limiting the use of chemicals in plastics that pose environmental hazards, but until now there has been no easy-to-use tool that charts the path to more sustainable alternatives.

“The Scorecard is essentially a decision-making tool aimed at improving the design of plastic products,” said Clean Production Action’s research director Mark Rossi. “As more and more consumers demand products that do not include toxic chemicals, companies, governments and environmental organizations need a way to assess the environmental preferability of the various alternatives.”

In recent years, one of the most commonly used plastics, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or “vinyl” has made headlines as the plastic of greatest concern to human health and the environment. Safer alternatives are available to PVC, but companies need a roadmap to ensure they switch to a significantly greener plastic rather than one that is only slightly less hazardous.

The Scorecard rates plastics on a set of criteria that simultaneously advance sustainable raw materials, green chemistry and closed loop systems. The criteria for moving up the spectrum toward “preferred plastics” were selected to progressively increase the sustainability of the plastic at each stage of its lifecycle.

The Plastics Scorecard grades the different plastics from F to A+. The parameters can be used to inform the greener manufacture of plastics as well as the process of evaluating their sustainability.

Chemicals of high concern may be cancer causing, or toxic to the reproductive, neurological or endocrine systems. These chemicals are used in the production of some common plastics used in household items, such as electronics. They include PVC, polycarbonate, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polystyrene.