Environmental Assessment of Municipal Waste Management Scenarios: Part I Data Collection and Preliminary Environmental Assessments for Life Cycle Thinking Pilot Studies


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 Landfilling can be almost eliminated and reductions in climate change contributions of 7% can be achieved relative to monitoring data for Kyoto targets in regions with high percentages of biodegradable waste using advanced waste management systems. Additional benefits outside the region are achieved through energy recovery, recycling, and compost production. These are quantified using life cycle assessment, which highlights that the benefits of advanced waste management systems can significantly outweigh the emissions and resources consumed by the operations themselves. For example, reductions in climate change emissions can be 3 times higher than the emissions of some landfills; corresponding to 20% of some national climate change contributions. The amount of waste landfilling avoided can equally exceed the amount of municipal waste generated in the region by avoiding the use of virgin materials, fossil fuels, and man-made soil improvers.

The European Commission’s (EC) Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste, as well as the proposed revisions to the European Waste Framework Directive and its up-coming Sustainable Consumption and Production Action Plan, highlight the necessity of life cycle thinking. This report presents the outcomes of 9 preliminary life cycle studies conducted with representatives of the European Union’s (EU) New Member States and Candidate Countries for the management of municipal solid waste. These pilot studies emphasise the significant potential benefits that can be achieved by going beyond just complying with the EU’s Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC and Packaging Waste Directive 2004/12/EC.

Up to 800 kg of waste is produced per person per year in some of the modelled regions. Just considering climate change and for wastes with high biodegradable fractions, this can contribute to 1 tonne per person per year of CO2 equivalents through uncontrolled landfilling and illegal dumping. Not considering source reductions of waste, the studies demonstrate however that dramatic reductions and often net benefits can be achieved through advanced management systems. But, there are sometimes trade-offs.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a widely used and internationally standardized (ISO14040 ff)1 methodology that helps quantitatively support life cycle thinking. LCA compliments many regulatory- and more site- or process-oriented risk and impact assessments. In the context of waste management, questions include whether it is better to e.g. incinerate plastics, paper, and biodegradable wastes to generate heat and electricity, or whether it is preferable to e.g. recycle and compost. Answering these and similar questions requires consideration of the emissions and resources consumed that are associated with, for example, providing virgin materials versus recycling them, or the pressures on the environment attributable to different fuels that may be replaced by energy generated from the waste. The quantified benefits, and trade-offs, occur both locally as well as in other regions in terms of issues such as climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, photo-oxidant formation (smog), eutrophication, acidification, carcinogenic effects, the depletion of resources including land use, and noise, among others.

The LCA results were calculated using an entry level model and the data provided by representatives of the EU’s New Member States and Candidate Countries: Bulgaria (Karlovo region), Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary (Kokeny region), Lithuania (Riga), Malta, Poland (Krakow), Romania (Iasi region), and Slovakia (Topolcany). The reference scenario is based on the situation in 2002-2003. Three alternative strategies were then modelled for each region to provide preliminary insights into the likely benefits, and trade-offs, of compliance with the Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC and the Packaging Waste Directive 2004/12/EC. Three more ambitious, scenarios, reflecting strategies in some other Member States, helped demonstrate the further potential particularly in relation to e.g. climate change that exists beyond compliance.

This report presents the waste flows, the waste compositions, quantities of solid waste landfilled, some of the key emissions to air and to water, and the main contributions to climate change for each waste management scenario for each pilot region. The pilot studies highlight how Life Cycle Thinking, and tools such as LCA, are essential in complimenting many traditional environmental impact assessments that have e.g. a more local or regulatory focus. The results take into account the emissions and resources consumed that are associated with e.g. energy recovery avoiding the use of other fuels, avoided use of conventional fertilizers through composting, and the avoidance of e.g. extracting and processing virgin materials by recycling.

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