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An investigation into the use of biodegradable packing materials in the new SUB : a triple bottom-line assessment

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  • Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • Medicine


The search for alternative and more environmentally friendly packing materials has recently become a popular topic as the existing conventional packing materials are made from non-renewable and are also non-biodegradable. Nonetheless, the benefit from materials made from bio-based resources are debatable. The new SUB in UBC is targeting to reduce waste stream as part of the sustainable action plan. As a result, the main objectives of this experiment are to conduct a triple bottom line assessment on PHA (proposed bio-based material) and PE (conventional material) and to present the results to the retailer for alternative and more sustainable packing material options. This study only focuses on the soft plastic bags which will be used for apparel businesses in the new SUB. For economic analysis, the unit selling price and market growth of both materials are compared. It is found that the selling price of PHA bags is 2-3 times greater than that of the PE bags. The market for PHA is 1.4% while PE market is 39%. To assess the environmental impact of both materials, the global warming, eutrophication and photochemical ozone are used as the indicators. Different sources of energy for PHA production process and end-of-life options are examined in comparison to PE ones. The energy source of PHA production is the main factor which dominates the impact on environment. Geothermal is found to be the resource which has the lowest impact but it is highly dependent on the geographic region. Also, coal-fired power for PHA production and landfill disposal option for both types of bags have the largest environmental impact. For social assessment, the risks for human health in production process, consumer- and retailer-based surveys, and banning of PE are studied. It is shown that PHA bags has lower overall risk than PE bags. However, the PHA involves more serious health problems such as fatal accidents and pulmonary health problems. The surveys show that both consumers and retailers are financial-oriented, and this greatly influences their behavior. As a result, PHA bags are not recommended to substitute PE bags. However, it is recommended that further research and analysis on another potential bio-based materials should continue. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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