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Developing a systematic framework for consistent allocation in LCA

Abstract

Purpose

Multifunctionality in life-cycle assessment (LCA) is solved with allocation, for which many different procedures are available. Lack of sufficient guidance and difficulties to identify the correct allocation approach cause a large number of combinations of methods to exist in scientific literature. This paper reviews allocation procedures for recycling situations, with the aim to identify a systematic approach to apply allocation.

Methods

Assumptions and definitions for the most important terms related to multifunctionality and recycling in LCA are given. The most relevant allocation procedures are identified from literature. These procedures are expressed in mathematical formulas and schemes and arranged in a systematic framework based on the underlying objectives and assumptions of the procedures.

Results and discussion

If the LCA goal asks for an attributional approach, multifunctionality can be solved by applying system expansion—i.e. including the co-functions in the functional unit—or partitioning. The cut-off approach is a form of partitioning, attributing all the impacts to the functional unit. If the LCA goal asks for a consequential approach, substitution is applied, for which three methods are identified: the end-of-life recycling method and the waste mining method, which are combined in the 50/50 method. We propose to merge these methods in a new formula: the market price-based substitution method. The inclusion of economic values and maintaining a strict separation between attributional and consequential LCA are considered to increase realism and consistency of the LCA method.

Conclusions and perspectives

We identified the most pertinent allocation procedures—for recycling as well as co-production and energy recovery—and expressed them in mathematical formulas and schemes. Based on the underlying objectives of the allocation procedures, we positioned them in a systematic and consistent framework, relating the procedures to the LCA goal definition and an attributional or consequential approach. We identified a new substitution method that replaces the three existing methods in consequential LCA. Further research should test the validity of the systematic framework and the market price-based substitution method by means of case studies.

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Acknowledgments

We acknowledge Solvay and the French National Association for Technical Research (CIFRE Convention N° 2013/1146) for the funding of the PhD study of the first author and for their contributions to this paper. We thank Koen van Woerden for solving the first-order linear recurrence relation. Finally, we thank Bo Weidema and the two anonymous reviewers for their useful and important feedback, which has greatly improved the quality of the paper.

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Correspondence to Guido Sonnemann.

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Schrijvers, D.L., Loubet, P. & Sonnemann, G. Developing a systematic framework for consistent allocation in LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 21, 976–993 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-016-1063-3

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Keywords

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