Life cycle assessment of waste paper management: The importance of technology data and system boundaries in assessing recycling and incineration

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    The significance of technical data, as well as the significance of system boundary choices, when modelling the environmental impact from recycling and incineration of waste paper has been studied by a life cycle assessment focusing oil global warming potentials. The consequence of choosing a specific set of data for the reprocessing technology, the virgin paper manufacturing technology and the incineration technology, as well as the importance of the recycling rate Was Studied. Furthermore, the system was expanded to include forestry and to include fossil fuel energy substitution from saved biomass, in order to study the importance of the system boundary choices. For recycling, the choice of virgin paper manufacturing data is most important, but the results show that also the impacts from the reprocessing technologies fluctuate greatly. For the overall results the choice of the technology data is of importance when comparing recycling including virgin paper Substitution with incineration including energy Substitution. Combining an environmentally high or low performing recycling technology with an environmentally high or low performing incineration technology can give quite different results. The modelling showed that recycling of paper, from a life cycle point of view, is environmentally equal or better than incineration with energy recovery only when the recycling technology is at a high environmental performance level. However, the modelling also showed that expanding the system to include Substitution of fossil fuel energy by production of energy from the saved biomass associated with recycling will give a completely different result. In this case recycling is always more beneficial than incineration, thus increased recycling is desirable. Expanding the system to include forestry was shown to have a minor effect on the results. As assessments are often performed with a set choice of data and a set recycling rate, it is questionable how useful the results from this kind of LCA are for a policy maker. The high significance of the system boundary choices stresses the importance of scientific discussion on how to best address system analysis of recycling, for paper and other recyclable materials.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
    Issue number12
    Pages (from-to)1391-1398
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


    • Waste paper
    • Incineration
    • Life cycle assessment
    • Recycling
    • Global warming potential


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