DOI: 10.1002/sd.2839 ISSN: 0968-0802

Adopting a socio‐material perspective on life cycle assessment: Environmental impacts of circular tableware systems in Italy's bioplastics context

Anna M. Walker, Alberto Simboli, Walter J. V. Vermeulen, Andrea Raggi
  • Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


Life cycle assessment (LCA) is amongst the most frequently used methodologies to identify and evaluate the environmental impacts of the circular supply chain configurations. This article aims to showcase how a socio‐material perspective can increase the embeddedness of such an assessment within inter‐firm networks. A comparative LCA of two circular product systems is conducted, namely single‐use and reusable tableware within a canteen located in northern Italy. To contextualise the LCA, the Actor Network Theory (ANT) is used as an epistemological lens to identify the framing and problematisation of bioplastics in Italy, as well as the power constellation of actors affecting the bioplastics life cycle. The ANT complements the LCA in three ways: firstly, it informs the end‐of‐life modelling of the product systems away from public narratives to the actual waste management practices and secondly, it contextualises the interpretation of the LCA results—in favour of the reuse system—with the socio‐technical factors in Italy. Finally, the socio‐material perspective allows for a discussion on the performative role of LCA in the light of its increasing popularity in the public and private sectors and on its potential to guide more sustainable production and consumption patterns.

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