Sustainable Waste Management: Learning from Life-cycle Assessments
International organizations, including the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the European Environmental Agency, and the U.S. EPA, use life-cycle assessments (LCA) to assess the environmental impacts of a product or process, from the extraction of raw materials to final disposition at the end-of-life.
Applied to waste management, an LCA assesses the environmental impacts and trade-offs of different management approaches and can be a useful decision-making tool for communities, governments and industry as they consider sustainable waste management options. Well executed LCAs based on models often validate their results against measured data to make sure any assumptions are reasonable.
In assessing waste management facilities, it is often necessary to evaluate the benefits of products or services delivered alongside the primary waste management objective (“co-products”). In the case of WTE, co-products include energy generation and recycled metals. Co-products from landfills include energy generated from the collected landfill gas. A comparative LCA assesses the relative difference in impacts between two options. An LCA can also be performed on a co-product.
For examples of an LCA that allows for comparison of different waste management approaches for post-recycled waste, check out the studies from and .
For more about efforts to address climate change, see our 2020 Sustainability Report.