Environmental Benefits of Recycling

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An international review of life cycle comparisons for key materials in the UK recycling sector

A recurring theme in the debates that surround waste and resources management is the extent to which the recycling of materials offers genuine benefits to the environment. Often, critics of the policy drive towards greater recycling assert that the act of recycling may in fact have little or no benefit to the environment, suggesting that more energy may be used in getting materials to the recycling facility than is saved by the process of recycling.

In order to inform this debate more fully, WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme) commissioned a major international research project from the Technical University of Denmark (IPU) and the Danish Topic Centre on Waste. The Danish team of experts , who have worked closely on the development of life-cycle thinking to inform future European waste strategies, conducted a comprehensive international review of existing life cycle analysis (LCA) projects that have used ISO standard methodologies to evaluate the impact on the environment of managing key materials in different ways – through recycling, incineration or landfill.

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