Every product produced is made of raw materials that are produced, then transported and consumed, then disposed of and hopefully, recycled or composted. You can perform a life cycle analysis on a product to determine the environmental impact it has. This can also be called an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). You look at the product’s full life cycle, from the raw resources extracted to create it to when it has been fully recycled or returned to the environment. Consider the amount of materials used, the energy used, possible reuse or recycle options, and any harm to the environment.
It is great to do this analysis when comparing different options for products, so you can choose the one that causes the least environmental impact. For example, after a study of life cycle analysis, some researchers found that it was actually better for the environment to distribute tuna fish in lightweight foil packaging instead of metal cans. Metal cans can be recycled, but they are heavier for transportation, which requires more energy. Add that to the energy it takes to recycle the cans, and you have an overall larger impact on the environment than using foil pouches, which are not recyclable but can be safely disposed in a landfill. This is why it is so important to do a full life cycle analysis so you truly know the best solution rather than assuming what seems better.
Typically, we think of the life cycle of a product as cradle-to-grave, meaning that it ends up in a landfill. But we need to change our thinking to cradle-to-cradle in order to create a product where nothing ends up in a landfill, and instead, all materials are returned to the environment to support the next product.