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Critical review of guidelines against a systematic framework with regard to consistency on allocation procedures for recycling in LCA

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Abstract

Purpose

Multifunctionality in LCA can be solved by several allocation procedures. Various official guidelines give divergent recommendations in which allocation procedure to apply, and up to now, no consensus has been reached. We aim to identify the obstacles to a consistent allocation approach that can be applied to all product categories and is supported by a broad range of stakeholders.

Methods

Based on a systematic framework for consistent allocation, developed by Schrijvers et al. (Int J Life Cycle Assess, 2016), we identify five review criteria that indicate the degree of consistency in the proposed allocation procedure of official guidelines. Several relevant guidelines, i.e. ISO 14044, ISO/TR 14049, ISO/TS 14067, the ILCD Handbook, BP X30-323-0, PAS 2050, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, EN15804, PEF Guide and guidance documents for EPDs and PCRs, are reviewed according to these criteria.

Results and discussion

None of the investigated guidelines fully follows the systematic framework for allocation. Often, different approaches are recommended for co-products and recycled materials, although the boundary between these flows is not always clear. Many guidelines do not recognize the existence of different LCA goals; therefore, elements of attributional and consequential LCAs are often mixed. The market situation of the recycled material is not always taken into account, e.g. in the mandatory 50/50 method of the PEF Guide. The ILCD Handbook and the General Programme Instructions for the International EPD® System provide most consistent guidance. We argue that consistency does not require a one-formula-fits-all method, as this would favour some product categories and only responds to a certain LCA goal.

Conclusions and perspectives

A critical review of guidelines against a systematic framework for allocation of co-products and recycled materials shows that few guidelines propose a consistent allocation approach. The main obstacles for consistency are the different approaches for co-production and (different types of open-loop) recycling and disregarding of different LCA goals and recycled material markets. We recommend to include material specific guidance in Product Category Rules on the determination of market prices, quality determining factors and relevant material properties for different applications.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Solvay and the French National Association for Technical Research (CIFRE Convention No. 2013/1146) for the funding of the Ph.D. study of the first author and for their contributions to this paper. Furthermore, we thank Bo Weidema and the two anonymous reviewers for their useful and important feedback, which has greatly improved the quality of the paper.

Author information

Correspondence to Guido Sonnemann.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Responsible editor: Mary Ann Curran

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Schrijvers, D.L., Loubet, P. & Sonnemann, G. Critical review of guidelines against a systematic framework with regard to consistency on allocation procedures for recycling in LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 21, 994–1008 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-016-1069-x

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Keywords

  • Allocation
  • Consistency
  • End-of-life recycling
  • Multifunctionality
  • Product environmental footprint
  • Recovery
  • Substitution