2021 journal article
Development of Streamlined Life-Cycle Assessment for the Solid Waste Management System
Environmental Science & Technology.
Life-cycle assessments (LCAs) of municipal solid waste management (MSWM) systems are time- and data-intensive. Reducing the data requirements for inventory and impact assessments will facilitate the wider use of LCAs during early system planning and design. Therefore, the objective of this study is to develop a systematic framework for streamlining LCAs by identifying the most critical impacts, life-cycle inventory emissions, and inputs based on their contributions to the total impacts and their effect on the rankings of 18 alternative MSWM scenarios. The scenarios are composed of six treatment processes: landfills, waste-to-energy combustion, single-stream recycling, mixed waste recycling, anaerobic digestion, and composting. The full LCA uses 1752 flows of resources and emissions, 10 impact categories, 3 normalization references, and 7 weighting schemes, and these were reduced using the streamlined LCA approach proposed in this study. Human health cancer, ecotoxicity, eutrophication, and fossil fuel depletion contribute 75-83% to the total impacts across all scenarios. It was found that 3.3% of the inventory flows contribute ≥95% of the overall environmental impact. The highest-ranked strategies are consistent between the streamlined and full LCAs. The results provide guidance on which impacts, flows, and inputs to prioritize during early strategy design.