Thetford's sustainable sanitation systems
Thetford is a leading global supplier of mobile sanitation systems, cooking and refrigeration appliances and toilet treatment products. As part of their environmental policy, Thetford strives to optimize the environmental performance of their products and activities, taking into account the technical and economic viability.
One of their sanitation products is a cassette toilet, including a removable waste-holding tank, as a sanitary solution for a caravan or motor home. For this product, they wished to quantify the impact of the life cycle, to enable them to make informed decisions on material choice and marketing. In order to move towards a more sustainable sanitation system, Thetford contacted Ecomatters to perform a screening LCA study. Such a screening LCA is a hot spot analysis to identify and understand the main drivers of high impacts within the value chain, as well as the aspects that require deeper examination.
The first step in any LCA study is deciding on the scope of the study. For the Thetford toilet, this was defined as a cradle-to-grave study, which includes not only the raw material extraction and assembly on the production site, but also the use stage and treatment at the end of life of the toilet. As will be elaborated later, the use stage, in particular, has an important contribution to the overall impact. This also highlights the importance of choosing system boundaries in line with the characteristics of the product.
In the next step, Thetford collected all data required for the assessment of their toilet, such as a bill of materials (both of the raw materials and packaging), transport distances, energy consumption during assembly, but also the toilet treatment products used by consumers and spare parts in case of damage to one of its components. Thus, a full picture was obtained of all inputs and outputs throughout the life cycle of the toilet.
The next steps were carried out by our consultants at Ecomatters. The data obtained from Thetford was used to model all inputs and processes in LCA software GaBi. Subsequently, a life cycle impact assessment was done, in which the input data is translated to its corresponding impacts on the environment. Finally, the results of this were analysed and interpreted, to assess the sustainability performance of the sanitation system, and presented to Thetford.
Insights of the LCA study
The LCA screening shows that the main driver of the environmental impact is the transport of the toilet during its lifetime in the caravan or motor home (the use stage), because the added weight increases the fuel consumption of the vehicle. Another important impact is attributed to the production of raw materials and half-products, such as plastics, metals and electronic components. The other impacts are related to the materials used in the toilet treatment products and the treatment of the toilet at the end of its life. Because the energy consumption both during the assembly by Thetford and during its use stage is low, its resulting environmental impact is also low. Further, a comparison was made between different possible toilet treatment products, based on the environmental characteristics of the materials used.
With the insights of this LCA study, showing the various environmental impacts during the full life cycle of their product, Thetford can identify potential measures to further improve the environmental performance of their product such as changes in design or choice of materials and/or material efficacy measures aiming to reduce the amount of virgin natural resources needed.
Additionally, the results may be used in discussions with suppliers and other stakeholders to support their strategic decision-making.
Ecomatters was happy to support Thetford in understanding the impact of their product and creating insight for future improvements.