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Advancing circular economy benefit indicators and application on open-loop recycling of mixed and contaminated plastic waste fractions

  • Huysveld, Sophie
  • Hubo, Sara
  • Ragaert, Kim
  • Dewulf, Jo
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2019
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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Increasing the recycling of plastic waste is a key priority within Europe and its circular economy initiatives. The benefits of recycling however decrease until a cut-off point is reached where recycling becomes environmentally and economically too expensive to achieve a net benefit compared to disposal. To identify this point, suitable indicators with a life cycle perspective are needed. In this study, we analysed the existing Recyclability Benefit Rate and the Recycled Content Benefit Rate indicators, which express the potential environmental benefits from recycling compared to disposal (e.g. incineration) taking into account life cycle thinking. However, improvements of these indicators are still needed. The aim of this research was to advance the existing indicators by introducing improved equations. More specifically, we further developed these indicators in four aspects, i.e. (i) by including the final step (e.g. incineration) in the cascaded use of the material, (ii) by accounting for the same basket of products in the denominator as the one in the nominator of the indicator, (iii) by eliminating confusion about the calculated result when the denominator is negative, and (iv) by introducing a new parameter ‘d’ to account for the lifetime of the product made from recycled material compared to the product made from virgin material. These adjustments clarify and advance the monitoring of the environmental benefits of material cascading. The indicators were applied to a case of mixed and contaminated plastic waste, which showed that recycling is more environmentally beneficial than incineration in this case. The impact of injection moulding of the new product was significant due to its energy consumption, and higher for the recycled material. Future research could focus on an economic cost-benefit analysis to complement this environmental analysis. Additionally, the practical implementation of accounting for the lifetime difference between the recycled and the virgin material needs further research

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