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Using Input-Output Analysis to Estimate Economy-wide Discharges
Life-cycle assessment models attempt to quantify the environmental implications of alternative products and processes, tracing pollution discharges and resources use through the chain of producers and consumers. Present life-cycle assessments must draw boundaries that limit consideration to a few producers in the chain from raw materials to a finished product. We show that this limitation considers only a fraction of the environmental discharges associated with a product or process, thereby making current assessments unreliable. We propose an approach that uses economic input-output analysis and pollution discharge data and apply the model to automobiles, refrigerators, and computer purchases, and to a comparison of paper and plastic cups.