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Life cycle assessment can help transition to a circular economy


Pinning Mayanti. Credit: Rica Calmy, Vaasa University

According to Bening Mayanti’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Vaasa, the use of life cycle assessment in conjunction with economic models can help companies take steps towards a circular economy.

“We often hear claims about some solutions being circular, sustainable or green,” says Mayanti, who publicly defended her thesis on Wednesday, April 5. “Instead of blindly accepting those claims, we should ask the rationale for, ‘How is that? ”

Before deciding on circular economy solutions and building supply chains, it is worth doing a careful analysis. According to Mayanti, life cycle assessment is a good method for this. It allows organizations to measure the environmental impact of their products and services over their entire life cycle, investigate environmental hotspots, compare different strategies and ensure that the decision benefits the environment.

In addition to environmental impacts, it is also important to keep in mind that circular solutions have economic impacts. In her PhD research, Mayanti combined two different tools: life cycle assessment, which measures environmental impacts, with life cycle costing, which assesses the economic impact of a product or service over its life cycle. She used this composite tool for case studies in her dissertation.

Recycling agricultural plastic waste will benefit both the environment and the finances

Finnish farms produce 12,000 tons of plastic waste annually, of which about half is bale wrap. Currently, most of this waste ends up in landfills. Mayanti conducted a case study on agricultural plastic waste recycling, involving 179 farms in southern Finland. In one scenario, bale wrappers and other agro-plastics were collected once a year, and in another scenario, twice a year.

Mayanti found that recycling agricultural plastic waste can reduce costs and the carbon footprint compared to producing virgin material. The study showed that collecting agricultural plastic waste once a year is cheaper than collecting waste twice a year. On the other hand, collecting waste twice a year provides higher environmental benefits, including improving the impact of climate change.

“There is a trade-off between the economic and the environmental aspects. Collecting plastic wrap twice a year will inflate the cost of collection while providing more environmental benefits because plastic waste is less polluted and weathered. On the one hand, annual collection is cheaper, but the plastic may be more corrosive.” says Mayanti.

Separate collection of bio-waste can be environmentally and economically viable

In addition to recycling agricultural plastic waste, Mayanti studied a separate group of biowaste, optimizing waste-to-energy plants, and burden sharing in waste management systems.

Recent Finnish legislation requires that at least five separate biowaste collection dwellings be arranged. Compared to ten dwellings in the old legislation, it creates a new bio-waste collection collection separated from the source.

A real case with more than 2,200 households in Kauhajoki Municipality in Finland showed that the latest legislation resulted in higher overall economic benefits and lower costs of environmental damage than the older legislation. Despite the increased collection costs, the bio-waste separated from the source will be processed at the biogas plant which incurs lower costs than the incineration plant.

Mayanti’s research also examined waste-to-energy incineration plants. By modifying operational parameters such as temperature or pressure, it was possible to improve system efficiency, environmental and economic performance.

Although the study showed overall economic benefits, the financial burden among stakeholders in waste management is unbalanced. In the case of recycling of agro-plastic waste and bio-waste separated from the source, collection costs must be borne by farmers and residents, which can be prohibitively expensive.

“In the case of recycling agro-plastic waste, some form of subsidy may be required. Alternatively, Finland could include agro-plastic waste in an expanded producer responsibility scheme and apply national collection schemes,” says Mayanti.

more information:
Doctoral Dissertation: Mayanti, Benning (2023), Toward Circular: A Life-Cycle-Based Approach to Waste Management

Provided by the University of Vaasa

the quote: Life Cycle Assessment Can Help Transition to Circular Economy (2023, April 11) Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-life-transition-circular-economy.html

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