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Discussion on methods to include prevention activities in waste management LCA

Abstract

Purpose

Waste prevention has been assigned increasing attention worldwide during recent years, and it is expected to become one of the core elements of waste management planning in the near future. In this framework, this paper presents and discusses two possible LCA approaches for the evaluation of the environmental and energetic performance of municipal solid waste (MSW) management systems which include the effects of waste prevention activities.

Methods

The two approaches are conceived for the comparison of waste management scenarios including waste prevention activities with baseline scenarios without waste prevention. For both of them, the functional unit is defined and the system boundaries are described with reference to different typologies of waste prevention activities identified in an extensive review. The procedure for the calculation of the LCA impacts of scenarios is also reported and an example illustrating the processes to be included in system boundaries for a specific waste prevention activity is provided.

Results and discussion

The presented approaches lead to the same result in terms of difference between the LCA impacts of a waste prevention scenario and of a baseline one. However, because of the partially different upstream system boundaries, different values of the impacts of single scenarios are obtained and the application of the two approaches is more suitable in different situations and in analyses with different purposes. The methodological aspects that can complicate the applicability of the two approaches are discussed lastly.

Conclusions

The environmental and energetic performance of MSW management scenarios including waste prevention activities can be evaluated with the two LCA approaches presented in this paper. They can be used for many purposes such as, among the most general, evaluating the upstream and downstream environmental consequences of implementing particular waste prevention activities in a given waste management system, complementing waste reduction indicators with LCA-based indicators and supporting with quantitative evidence the strategic and policy relevance of waste prevention.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Actually, an equivalent new good is prevented in its entirety only if its average lifespan is identical to the duration of the second life of the reused good, or of the additional life of the good the lifespan of which has been extended. If these latter are shorter or longer than the former, only a fraction (smaller or greater than 1) of the equivalent new good is actually prevented. It is equal to the ratio between the duration of the second life of the reused good (or the duration of the additional life of the good the lifespan of which has been extended) and the average lifespan of the equivalent new good. This is not very close to the reality, where waste is defined by integer quantities, but it is a possible modelling approach also reported in the guidelines prepared by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (2011).

  2. 2.

    This is valid also for Approach 1, even if not explicitly stated during the description of the system boundaries adopted in a waste prevention scenario according to this approach.

  3. 3.

    In the case of reuse and lifespan extension of existing goods only additional upstream impacts are generally involved.

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Correspondence to Simone Nessi.

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Responsible editor: Shabbir Gheewala

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Nessi, S., Rigamonti, L. & Grosso, M. Discussion on methods to include prevention activities in waste management LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18, 1358–1373 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-013-0570-8

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Keywords

  • Integrated municipal solid waste (MSW) management systems
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Waste hierarchy
  • Waste prevention
  • Waste prevention activities