Life cycle assessment of bioplastics and food waste disposal methods

Shakira R. Hobbs, Tyler M. Harris, William J. Barr, Amy E. Landis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The environmental impacts of five waste management scenarios for polylactic acid (PLA)-based bioplastics and food waste were quantified using life cycle assessment. Laboratory experiments have demonstrated the potential for a pretreatment process to accelerate the degradation of bioplastics and were modeled in two of the five scenarios assessed. The five scenarios analyzed in this study were: (1a) Anaerobic digestion (1b) Anaerobic digestion with pretreatment; (2a) Compost; (2a) Compost with pretreatment; (3) Landfill. Results suggested that food waste and pretreated bioplastics disposed of with an anaerobic digester offers life cycle and environmental net total benefits (environmental advantages/offsets) in several areas: Ecotoxicity (−81.38 CTUe), eutrophication (0 kg N eq), cumulative energy demand (−1.79 MJ), global warming potential (0.19 kg CO2), and human health non-carcinogenic (−2.52 CTuh). Normalized results across all impact categories show that anaerobically digesting food waste and bioplastics offer the most offsets for ecotoxicity, eutrophication, cumulative energy demand and non-carcinogenic. Implications from this study can lead to nutrient and energy recovery from an anaerobic digester that can diversify the types of fertilizers and decrease landfill waste while decreasing dependency on non-renewable technologies. Thus, using anaerobic digestion to manage bioplastics and food waste should be further explored as a viable and sustainable solution for waste management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6894
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was financially supported by the NSF CBET Award No. 1066658/1246547/1553126. S.R.H. was supported by an IGERT-SUN fellowship funded by the National Science Foundation (Award 1144616) and the Environmental Research and Education Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Bioplastics
  • Disposal
  • LCA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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