Life cycle analysis: A guide along the road to sustainability

JC Powell, A Craighill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Every year, each member of the UK population demands the extraction of 5 tonnes of primary aggregates for the road building and construction industries. At the end of its useful life, some of this material is recycled for low-grade purposes, but only 4% is used to replace primary aggregates in more demanding construction uses. Demand for aggregates continues to increase whilst at the same time planning consents for extraction are becoming harder to obtain. The UK Government has committed itself to following the road marked sustainable development. Important steps have already been taken by calling for increased efficiency of use, and increased reuse and recycling of aggregates. However, further direction is needed. There is a lack of accurate data on the nature and amount of wastes arising, and research on the impacts generated by recycling construction industry waste, compared with its landfill disposal, is limited. This paper demonstrates how the technique of lifecycle assessment can be used to examine the environmental and social impacts of managing construction industry waste in different ways. It is demonstrated that this technique can provide direction along the road to sustainability for the minerals and construction industries. In the UK, about 270 million tonnes of primary aggregates are extracted each year, equivalent to 5 tonnes for every member of the UK population. Aggregate extraction has deleterious impacts on landscape, habitats and local communities, and the current rate of use is clearly unsustainable. The previous UK Government broadly committed itself to following the road marked sustainable development, which should result in the reduction of mineral extraction rates. This approach has since been taken up by the Labour Government. Reducing the need for primary aggregates, in line with the principles of sustainable development, requires the appropriate use of materials, minimising waste production and using secondary materials where possible. Applying sustainability principles to the minerals and construction industries requires a lifecycle approach, whereby impacts are considered from the extraction of raw materials, through processing and transportation, to recycling and final disposal. Lifecycle assessment can help identify where the main environmental impacts lie. This paper describes some of the environmental impacts arising from the minerals and construction industries and discusses ways in which to increase the industries' progress along the road to sustainability. It also examines the use of lifecycle assessment as a guide along this road.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-26
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental Protection Bulletin
Publication statusPublished - 1999

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