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Plastic waste management in the context of a European recycling society: Comparing results and uncertainties in a life cycle perspective
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Ecology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9869-9707
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Ecology.
2010 (English)In: Resources, Conservation and Recycling, ISSN 0921-3449, Vol. 55, no 2, 246-259 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

A number of life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have been undertaken within the last 15 years comparing end-of-life treatment options for post-consumer plastic waste, including techniques such as: mechanical recycling, feedstock recycling, incineration with energy recovery and landfilling. These have attempted to support decisions in the formulation of waste management strategies and policies. In light of the introduction of life cycle thinking into European waste policies, specifically in relation to the waste hierarchy, a literature review of publically available LCA studies evaluating alternative end-of-life treatment options for plastic waste has been conducted. This has been done in order to: establish if a consensus exists as to the environmentally preferable treatment option for plastic waste; identify the methodological considerations and assumptions that have led to these conclusions; and determine the legitimacy of applying the waste hierarchy to the plastic waste stream. The majority of the LCA studies concluded that, when single polymer plastic waste fractions with little organic contamination are recycled and replace virgin plastic at a ratio of close to 1:1, recycling is generally the environmentally preferred treatment option when compared to municipal solid waste incineration. It has been found that assumptions relating to the virgin material substitution ratio and level of organic contamination can have a significant influence upon the results of these studies. Although a limited number of studies addressed feedstock recycling, feedstock recycling and the use of plastic waste as a solid recovered fuel in cement kilns were preferred to municipal solid waste incineration. Landfilling of plastic waste compared to municipal solid waste incineration proved to be the least preferred option for all impact categories except for global warming potential. Due to the uncertainty surrounding some assumptions in the studies, it cannot be said with confidence that the waste hierarchy should be applied to plastic waste management as a general rule.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010. Vol. 55, no 2, 246-259 p.
Keyword [en]
Life cycle assessment, Plastic waste, Waste hierarchy, Recycling, Environmental impacts
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-29528DOI: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2010.09.014ISI: 000285659100018ScopusID: 2-s2.0-78649319944OAI: diva2:395678
QC 20110207Available from: 2011-02-07 Created: 2011-02-07 Last updated: 2012-11-27Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Life Cycle Thinking and Waste Policy: Between Science and Society
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Life Cycle Thinking and Waste Policy: Between Science and Society
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study investigates the application of life cycle thinking (LCT) and life cycle assessment (LCA) in the field of waste management from perspectives based in the social sciences. LCT is explored through the theoretical construct of regimes, drawing theoretical resources from a combination of the ‘pragmatic turn’, the economics of conventions and transition theory.This work is based on eight papers treating theoretical arguments, qualitative and quantitative analysis, case studies and semi-structured interview data. LCT is placed in the context of contemporary societies. LCA is seen as an instrument of quantification and evaluation used by actors which have both similar and disparate objectives, and who offer justifications for its use through arguments embedded in conflicting pluralities of worth. Furthermore, this work analyses LCA as a tool for the qualification of the waste hierarchy; a waste management principle articulating a convention based on closed material cycles. This study argues that the technological trajectory of waste management regimes has been significantly influenced, inter alia, by actors’ institutional articulation of the waste hierarchy at national and territorial levels. It discusses the legitimacy of LCA, and the quantitative application of LCT, as an intermediary object used to qualify the waste hierarchy. Furthermore, LCT is placed in a prospective context which may be used to assist in the transition toward sustainable waste management.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2012. xiii, 131 p.
Trita-IM, ISSN 1402-7615 ; 2012:30
Life cycle thinking; life cycle assessment; waste policy; waste hierarchy; coordination; conventions; legitimacy
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-105781 (URN)978-91-7501-555-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-12-17, F3, Lindstedtsvägen, 26, KTH, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)

QC 20121127

Available from: 2012-11-27 Created: 2012-11-26 Last updated: 2012-11-27Bibliographically approved

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