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Substitution modelling in life cycle assessment of municipal solid waste management

Stéphanie Viau, Guillaume Majeau-Bettez, Laurent Spreutels, Robert Legros, Manuele Margni and Réjean Samson

Article (2020)

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Life cycle assessment (LCA) is gaining importance worldwide in guiding waste management policies. The capacity of co-products such as recycled materials and recovered energy to avoid primary production of equivalent products largely determines the environmental performance of waste treatment technologies. Estimating the reductions in resource use, emissions, and impacts enabled by this substitution of primary production is often the most influential and controversial factor in quantifying the overall environmental performance of a waste management strategy. This study aims to critically evaluate the modelling of substitution in LCAs of recovered material from municipal solid waste management systems (MSWMS) by answering two questions. First, to what extent is substitution modelling transparently documented in the literature? Second, are the substitution ratios justified to represent physically realistic replacement of one product by another? To address these questions, we performed a systematic analysis of 51 LCA studies on MSWMS published in the peer-reviewed literature. We found that 22% of the substitution ratios are only implicitly expressed. A significant proportion of substitution ratios is not justified (65%), while for the remaining 35%, justifications do not represent physically realistic substitutions. We call for more rigor and transparency, and we propose guidance for the documentation of substitution ratios, with the aim of reaching more credible and robust analyses. For the justification of a substitution ratio to be considered physically realistic, information should notably be provided concerning loss of quality, the function performed by substitutable materials, and the sector of use.

Uncontrolled Keywords

LCA; Substitution; Municipal solid waste; Modelling; Recycling; Energy recovery

Subjects: 1500 Environmental engineering > 1500 Environmental engineering
1600 Industrial engineering > 1600 Industrial engineering
1800 Chemical engineering > 1800 Chemical engineering
2300 Fuel and energy technology > 2303 Other sources of energy (solar, wind, etc.)
Department: Department of Chemical Engineering
Department of Mathematics and Industrial Engineering
Research Center: Other
CIRAIG - International Reference Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services
Funders: Ville de Gatineau, Ville de Laval, Ville de Montréal, Recyc-Québec
PolyPublie URL: https://publications.polymtl.ca/4080/
Journal Title: Waste Management (vol. 102)
Publisher: Elsevier
DOI: 10.1016/j.wasman.2019.11.042
Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.11.042
Date Deposited: 10 Dec 2019 14:45
Last Modified: 11 May 2023 06:25
Cite in APA 7: Viau, S., Majeau-Bettez, G., Spreutels, L., Legros, R., Margni, M., & Samson, R. (2020). Substitution modelling in life cycle assessment of municipal solid waste management. Waste Management, 102, 795-803. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.11.042


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