Plastic litter affects ecosystems and species all over the world. For example, microplastics have turned up as far north as the Arctic, and animals can ingest or become entangled in plastics. Yet life cycle assessment—a tool often used to inform environmental decision-making—does not yet consider the consequences of plastic litter. A life cycle approach to assessing plastic would consider its full range of impacts, from the extraction of raw materials through processing, manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal. Not applying such an approach to plastic could lead to unnecessary impacts on ecosystems and human health because the potential benefits of environmental measures cannot be properly assessed.
As Canada Research Chair in Impacts of Plastics in the Environment, Dr. Anne-Marie Boulay is developing new models that would help to fill this gap. She and her research team hope to contribute to an international consensus on harmonized methods for assessing important impact pathways in life cycle assessment.