A life cycle assessment of energy from waste and recycling in a post-carbon future

Burnley, Stephen John (2019). A life cycle assessment of energy from waste and recycling in a post-carbon future. Detritus, 05 pp. 150–162.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.31025/2611-4135/2019.13790


Life cycle assessment was used to investigate the environmental impacts and benefits of managing residual municipal solid waste, waste newspapers and organic waste for two energy supply scenarios. In the first scenario, the electricity generated by energy from waste and landfill gas combustion displaces grid electricity generated from natural gas. The electricity and process heat used in the recycling and primary material production processes are also generated from gas. In the second scenario, wind power is the marginal electricity source displaced by energy from waste (EfW) and landfill gas use and wind and biomass are used to provide process electricity and heat respectively. The results show that, under both energy supply scenarios, treating the residual non-recyclable municipal solid waste in EfW facilities is preferable to landfill. Comparing the recycling of waste paper with EfW shows that neither option can be regarded as the better environment option and this is the case regardless of the energy supply scenario. The environmental burdens of treating organic waste by EfW increase with a move to wind power and, in this case, the results suggest that composting has environmental advantages over EfW. Normalising the LCA results demonstrates that waste management represents a low proportion (-1.5% to 1.5%) of an individual’s contribution to their overall LCA impacts.

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