Material Flow Analysis and Life Cycle Assessment of Polyethylene Terephthalate and Polyolefin Plastics Supply Chains in the United States

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Department of Chemical Engineering; Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


Plastics are useful and beneficial materials that contribute to an improved quality of life, yet they generate significant solid wastes and emissions and consume significant energy resources. Systems analysis is incomplete on current linear production systems of plastics supply chains and their associated processes. Our study combines material flow and life cycle assessment data sets of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and the main polyolefin polymers in the United States, comprising over 70% of plastics flows. This study estimates the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy consumption of these supply chains, including transportation and end-of-life processes, lacking in prior studies. We calculate annual GHG emissions and energy consumption of these plastic supply chains to be 101 MMT CO2-eq and 3248 PJ in 2019, respectively. The GHG emissions of these supply chains represented 1.5% of the total U.S. emissions and 5% of the total U.S. industry-related GHG emissions. The total energy consumption of these supply chains represented 3.1% of the total U.S. energy consumption in 2019. Transportation of PET and polyolefin plastic materials contributes 5% and 2% to the total supply chain GHG emissions and energy consumption, respectively. This baseline study provides a benchmark and enables a comparison to future circular production systems for plastics in the United States.

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ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering