Comparison of Feedstock Recycling and Alternative Treatment Methods for Household Packaging Waste
Life Cycle Assessment methodology has been used in order to obtain a rough comparison of the environmental benefits of feedstock recycling with alternative treatment methods for plastic waste from households in Norway.
The ranking between the different alternatives varies according to which environmental impact is assessed. The exception to this is incineration in a waste incinerator, which gives the least environmental benefits for all of the environmental impacts assessed. Feedstock recycling gives a marginally greater environmental benefit than a high rate of mechanical recycling (49%) for global warming potential. However, for the other environmental impact categories analysed (acidification, eutrophication and energy use), feedstock recycling has a clearly worse environmental profile than both a high rate (49%) and a lower rate (21%) of mechanical recycling. Industrial energy recovery as a replacement for coal gives the greatest environmental benefit for the impact categories acidification and eutrophication.
The most important assumptions used in the analyses of the different treatment methods are described. However, if the results are to be important for strategy work to find the most environmentally and economically beneficial methods for recycling plastic, it is recommended that follow-up studies are carried out in order to more thoroughly analyse the systems and test the most sensitive assumptions and parameters. This is particularly relevant for the assumption that industrial energy recovery from plastic in cement production replaces coal, as well as quality control of data and assumptions used for the analysis of feedstock recycling in Germany.
With this background, as well as the EU proposal that feedstock recycling shall not be counted as material recycling, it is recommended that a more comprehensive study is carried out. This can be the basis for important input to both strategic decisions for Plastretur and the EU directive.