Lifecycle assessment and economic evaluation of recycling: A case study

Craighill, Amelia L. and Powell, Jane C. (1996) Lifecycle assessment and economic evaluation of recycling: A case study. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 17 (2). pp. 75-96.

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Recycling is widely assumed to be environmentally beneficial, although the collection, sorting and processing of materials into new products also entails significant environmental impacts. This study compares the relative environmental impacts of a recycling system (incorporating the kerbside collection of recyclable materials and their subsequent use by manufacturers), with a waste disposal system (in which the waste is disposed to landfill and primary raw materials are used in manufacture), using the technique of lifecycle assessment. The methodology is then extended to incorporate an economic evaluation of the environmental impacts. This combination of lifecycle assessment and economic evaluation can be termed ‘Lifecycle Evaluation’. Lifecycle assessment quantifies and evaluates the environmental impacts of a product from the acquisition of raw materials, through manufacture and use, to final disposal. Lifecycle assessment can also provide a framework for the analysis of environmental impacts from systems such as transport, or waste management, as demonstrated in this paper. The results, for a case study of Milton Keynes in Central England, show that the recycling system generally performs better than the waste disposal system in terms of contribution to global warming, acidification effects and nutrification of surface water. An alternative method of analysis is then used, in which an economic valuation of the environmental impacts is carried out. This produces net benefits for recycling, per tonne of material, of £1769 for aluminium, £238 for steel, £226 for paper and £188 for glass, and net costs of £2.57 for high density polyethylene (HDPE), £4.10 for poly (vinyl chloride) (PVC) and £7.28 for poly (ethylene terephthalate) (PET). It is concluded that lifecycle evaluation, the combination of lifecycle assessment and economic valuation, can be applied to a variety of waste management issues such as the appraisal of alternative methods of collection for recycling or an examination of the UK waste management hierarchy. This technique allows impacts to be expressed in homogenous units, and the inclusion of social and environmental impacts that would not normally be addressed within a lifecycle assessment. The approach would also facilitate the evaluation of environmental and social effects at a local level, which are particularly crucial to the success of community recycling schemes. Lifecycle evaluation could provide a powerful tool to aid the development of sustainable waste management and recycling policy.

Item Type: Article
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Environmental Sciences
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Science > Research Centres > Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE)
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Resources, Sustainability and Governance (former - to 2018)
Depositing User: Rosie Cullington
Date Deposited: 02 Aug 2011 09:56
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2022 02:04
DOI: 10.1016/0921-3449(96)01105-6

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