In March 2021, the Life Cycle Initiative hosted by the UN Environment Program announced the publication of the latest report within its series on evaluating single-use plastics and their alternatives using a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach. The UN organization was tasked with compiling existing information on the topic, and a set of meta-analysis reports have now been published under the initiative that focus on investigating specific plastic products including bottles, take-away food packaging, beverage cups, cutlery, and bags. The new report provides an overview from the findings for each of these specific products as well as information on policy actions to address single-use plastic products using a life cycle approach.

The report highlights that the most critical finding from this investigation is that the aspect of products being “‘single-use’ is more problematic than [being made from] ‘plastic’.” UN member states are therefore being “encouraged to support, promote and incentivize actions that lead to keeping resources in the economy at their highest value for as long as possible, by replacing single-use plastic products with reusable products as part of a circular economy approach.” The agency notes that “this will require systems change.” Additional recommendations include also using “a range of robust information sources” in addition to LCA results, keeping the geographic and social context in mind when considering LCA results, ensuring the most feasible end-of-life option is applied within LCA studies, recognizing that trade-offs always exist in policy making, and “reducing the use of single-use products whatever the material.”

The report further provides a set of 10 case studies from different countries and regions presenting national-level actions to address pollution from single-use plastic products. It was presented during a virtual launch event in February 2021, which has been recorded and made available for viewing. A separate webinar series presenting and discussing the results from each of the product analyses has also been recorded. The initiative is now working on additional studies focused on plates, face masks, and baby diapers.


UNEP (February 2021). “Addressing Single-Use Plastic Products Pollution Using a Life Cycle Approach.” (pdf)

Read more

Life Cycle Initiative (February 2021). “Single-Use Plastic Products (SUPP) and their alternatives: Recommendations from Life Cycle Assessments.”