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Methodological aspects of life cycle assessment of integrated solid waste management systems

TitleMethodological aspects of life cycle assessment of integrated solid waste management systems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsFinnveden Göran
Journal TitleResources, Conservation & Recycling
Volume26
Pages173-187
KeywordsLife cycle assessment, Solid waste management, Whole system modelling
AbstractEnvironmental life cycle assessment (LCA) developed rapidly during the 1990s and hasreached a certain level of harmonisation and standardisation. LCA has mainly beendeveloped for analysing material products, but can also be applied to services, e.g. treatmentof a particular amount of solid waste. This paper discusses some methodological issues whichcome into focus when LCAs are applied to solid waste management systems. The followingfive issues are discussed. (1) Upstream and downstream system boundaries: where is the‘cradle’ and where is the ‘grave’ in the analysed system? (2) Open-loop recycling allocation:besides taking care of a certain amount of solid waste, many treatment processes alsoprovide additional functions, e.g. energy or materials which are recycled into other products.Two important questions which arise are if an allocation between the different functionsshould be made (and if so how), or if system boundaries should be expanded to includeseveral functions. (3) Multi-input allocation: in waste treatment processes, different materialsand products are usually mixed. In many applications there is a need to allocate environmentalinterventions from the treatment processes to the different input materials. The questionis how this should be done. (4) Time: emissions from landfills will continue for a long time.An important issue to resolve is the length of time emissions from the landfill should beconsidered. (5) Life cycle impact assessment: are there any aspects of solid waste systems (e.g.the time horizon) that may require specific attention for the impact assessment element of anLCA? Although the discussion centres around LCA it is expected that many of these issuesare also relevant for other types of systems analyses.
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