Looking beyond the banning of lightweight bags: analysing the role of plastic (and fuel) impacts in waste collection at a Portuguese city

Abstract

The purpose of this work is to assess the environmental impacts of the collection of mixed municipal solid waste (MSW) in a selected neighbourhood of the Portuguese city of Aveiro. To this purpose, the main elements necessary for the collection process (carrier bags, dustbins, street containers and vehicles) were analysed applying the life cycle assessment methodology, making use of locally gathered data. The main impacts associated with this activity are mostly related to the use of polyethylene plastic bags to carry the waste from the household to the waste container, and to the fuel consumption of collection vehicle that picks MSW from street containers and transports it to the treatment facility. The impacts associated with the plastic bags were primarily due to their disposal in a sanitary landfill after use and secondarily to the consumption of fossil raw materials required for their production. Given the relative high impact of the plastic bags, alternative scenarios were tested: using bags entirely produced with recycled polyethylene and bags produced with bio-based plastics derived from starch (TPS) and from wastewater (PHA). PHA bio-based bags were found to perform slightly better than conventional high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags, but HDPE bags with 100% recycled content remained as the environmentally best option. A sensitivity analysis was performed to check the influence of bag size. Regarding the fuel consumption by collection vehicles, a comparison was performed to check how site-specific conditions can influence the impact of this activity, resulting in remarkably higher consumptions when local data were used instead of reference databases.

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This work received financial support from LIFE+, the financial instrument of the EU for the environment, for funding the LIFE PAYT project (LIFE 15/ENV/PT/000609). C. Dias-Ferreira received support through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia – of POCH – Programa Operacional Capital Humano – within ESF – European Social Fund – and of national funds from MCTES – Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Ensino Superior (SFRH/BPD/100717/2014).

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Correspondence to Álvaro Fernández-Braña.

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Fernández-Braña, Á., Feijoo-Costa, G. & Dias-Ferreira, C. Looking beyond the banning of lightweight bags: analysing the role of plastic (and fuel) impacts in waste collection at a Portuguese city. Environ Sci Pollut Res 26, 35629–35647 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-019-05938-w

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Keywords

  • Municipal waste collection
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Environmental performance
  • Bioplastic
  • Polyhydroxyalkanoates
  • Thermoplastic starch
  • Recycled polyethylene
  • Fuel consumption