Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and potential environmental impacts of a product system throughout its life cycle. LCA describes the life cycle as consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system extending from the acquisition of raw materials through materials processing, technology manufacturing/construction, technology use/maintenance/upgrade, and the technology retirement. LCA also provides a framework for understanding economic and social impacts. In an LCA, data are collected at the unit process level, intended to represent a single industrial activity, in this case the food and agriculture industry. Each single industrial activity (a) produces product and sometimes co-products; (b) uses resources from the environment; (c) uses resources from other unit processes in the technosphere; and (d) generates emissions to the environment. In an LCA, the inventory analysis combines unit process data for the life cycle and the impact assessment estimates the impact associated with activities and flows to and from the environment for the inventory. Datasets have been developed for the LCA Commons in response to a national need for data representing US operations. The LCA Commons database is an open access database developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Library (NAL) for use in LCAs to support policy assessment, technology implementation decision-making, and publicly disclosed comparative product or technology assertions.
K7612-17: Photo by Scott Bauer; http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/sep97/k7612-17.htm