A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of a municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) was conducted to illustrate the effect of an emission inventory data collection scheme on the outcomes of an environmental impact assessment. Due to their burden in respect to data collection, LCAs often rely heavily on existing emission and operational data, which are gathered under either compulsory monitoring or reporting requirements under law. In this study, an LCA was conducted using three input data sources: Information compiled under compulsory disclosure requirements (the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Registry), compliance with national discharge limits, and a state-of-the-art emission data collection scheme conducted at the same WWTP. Parameter uncertainty for each collection scheme was assessed through Monte Carlo simulation. The comparison of the results confirmed that LCA results depend heavily on input data coverage. Due to the threshold on reporting value, the E-PRTR did not capture the impact for particulate matter emission, terrestrial acidification, or terrestrial eutrophication. While the current practice can capture more than 90% of non-carcinogenic human toxicity and marine eutrophication, an LCA based on the data collection scheme underestimates impact potential due to limitations of substance coverage. Besides differences between data collection schemes, the results showed that 3-13,500% of the impacts came from background systems, such as from the provisioning of fuel, electricity, and chemicals, which do not need to be disclosed currently under E-PRTR. The incidental release of pollutants was also assessed by employing a scenario-based approach, the results of which demonstrated that these non-routine emissions could increase overall WWTP greenhouse gas emissions by between 113 and 210%. Overall, current data collection schemes have the potential to provide standardized data collection and form the basis for a sound environmental impact assessment, but several improvements are recommended, including the additional collection of energy and chemical usage data, the elimination of a reporting threshold, the expansion of substance coverage, and the inclusion of non-point fugitive gas emissions.
- Sewage sludge
- Life cycle assessment
- Environmental information
- Compulsory disclosure requirement