European Environment Agency (EEA)

Paper and Cardboard - Recovery or Disposal?


Courtesy of Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

To provide a solid basis for policies and policymakingin the field of waste management, the environmental and economic impacts causedby different waste treatment options should be examined. In recent years, a large number of studies comparing recycling with recovery or final disposal have been published, which are based on life cycle assessment (LCA) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA). To the frustration of policy-makers, experts and, not least the public at large, the results from these studies often differ greatly, and are even sometimes directly conflicting. Therefore, it would be of value to evaluate the robustness of these studies and their conclusions, and to clarify the reasons why results apparently differ so much. This is the overall purpose of the present project. Studies using LCAs and CBAs for
comparison of waste management options for paper and cardboard have been reviewed.

1.1 Background

The thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste

The communication by the European Commission on the thematic strategy was inspired by a life cycle approach to resources management taking waste phase as its starting point. Following this approach, waste prevention and recycling are assumed to reduce the environmental impact of resource use by avoiding negative environmental impacts arising at all stages in the life cycle of products. These impacts include extraction and initial processing, transformation and manufacturing, consumption or use and, finally, waste management.

The communication argues that in some cases questions arise as to why specific materials are addressed in one waste stream but not in others. For example, while Community legislation requires the recycling of paper and cardboard from packaging, there is no analogous requirement for paper from other sources, such as office paper or newsprint. Paper from these sources is often as appropriate for recycling from both an economic and environmental point of view.

On this basis, the potential advantages of setting material-based recycling targets rather than productbased recycling targets should be examined. 'Paper and cardboard' is given as an example of a material to which such logic could be applied. The input to such target-setting could, for instance, be supported by information from both LCAs and CBAs.

Instead of conducting further analysis, the European Commission requested the EEA and its Topic Centre on Waste and Material flow (now renamed the Topic Centre on Resource and Waste Management) to undertake two reviews of already existing studies in order to analyse whether any conclusions could be drawn on preferable waste management options for paper and cardboard. Thus, the present report has been prepared as an input to the process of elaborating the thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste.


Two separate reviews have been carried out covering studies of alternative recovery and disposal options for paper and cardboard: one for LCAs and one for CBAs.

The objective has been to identify and subsequently to perform critical analysis of the LCA and CBA studies. The aim is also to identify and assess the system parameters and boundary assumptions that have been most decisive for the conclusions obtained in the studies analysed.

This approach has been chosen because there are many methodological issues involved in carrying out an LCA or CBA study; all of which can have a strong influence on the outcome of the study. Such methodological issues comprise, for example, the goal and scope of the study, definition of the system boundaries, weighting, environmental impact categories selected or monetary values chosen.

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