Title: Life cycle indicators for monitoring the environmental performance of European waste management
Publication Year: 2013
JRC N°: JRC73834
ISSN: 0921-3449
URI: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921344913001857
DOI: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2013.09.004
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: To improve the environmental performance of current European waste management is a challenging, yet crucial task towards a more sustainable Europe. New approaches are therefore needed to provide an effective and science-based support to environmentally sound decision-making in waste management. These approaches should be able to complement existing insights and adapt to the increasing complexity of the current waste management systems. As widely recognized by EU legislation, Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) is a viable approach to support sound waste management choices. In this context, the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) of the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) has lead the development of macro-level, life cycle based waste management indicators to quantify and monitor the potential environmental impacts, benefits, and improvements associated with the management of a number of selected waste streams generated and treated in Europe. The waste management indicators consistently complement and support article 4 of the Waste Framework Directive (EC, 2008), according to which any deviation from the waste hierarchy (prevention, re-use, recycling, recovery, and disposal) must be justified by “life cycle thinking on the overall impacts of the generation and management of such waste”. They provide a basis to monitor the progress made with the implementation of the Waste Framework Directive and national policies in relation to reducing the environmental impacts associated with waste and increasing the benefits of waste management strategies. The waste management indicators developed make use of a combination of macro statistical waste management data combined with emissions/resource life cycle data for the different elements of the waste treatment chain. Indicators were initially calculated for the entire European Union (EU-27) and for Germany. The following waste streams were considered: household and similar waste, paper and cardboard, plastic, glass, metals, wood, animal and vegetal waste, and mineral waste. Overall, 11 impact categories were included in the assessment, i.e. climate change, human toxicity, acidification, eutrophication, ionising radiation, ozone depletion, particulate matter/respiratory inorganics, photochemical ozone formation, ecotoxicity, land use and resource depletion. An indicator developed for a given waste stream captures the potential environmental impact associated with the generation and management of that waste stream. The entire waste management chain is considered, i.e. from generation to final treatment/disposal. Therefore, system boundaries for the selected waste streams include also the treatment or recycling of secondary waste (e.g. bottom ash from the incineration of household waste), and secondary products (e.g. recovered paper), as well as energy recovery. The experiences from the development of these life cycle based waste management indicators suggest that more detailed and quality-assured waste statistics are needed, especially covering the many different treatment operations and options. Also, it would be beneficial if waste statistics had a higher disaggregation level of waste categories, as well as more detailed information about waste composition. A further development of the indicators should include an increased number of waste streams, as well as calculation of the results for all Member States.
JRC Directorate:Sustainable Resources

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