From LCA to Life Cycle Management

This is from Science for Environmental Policy, DG Environment News Alert Service, issue 252.

"Although life cycle assessment (LCA) is a widely accepted method for supporting decision-making, it can face difficulties when being translated into practical life cycle management. A recent case study on local waste management has led to the development of several principles to ensure that LCAs are understandable and applicable.

The EU recommends the use of LCA or life cycle thinking in the waste management plans of Member States. However, for LCAs to be successful in developing waste management plans they must be transparent, both in terms of their results and their links with policy practice.

The waste agency of Catalonia (Spain), commissioned the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change to explore the LCA of different waste management options, with the specific aim of examining whether it is preferable to treat waste in Catalonia or to export it for treatment. The research group analysed the process and compiled a set of principles to guide those undertaking LCAs to ensure they are understood and used by decision makers. Although focused on Catalonia, the study is general in its scope and does not depend on any specific local conditions, so its recommendations could apply to other regions as well.

Four waste management options were identified with different combinations of treatments (energy recovery, solvent recovery and landfill) and a choice of whether to export the waste or treat it within Catalonia. The authors estimated the environmental impact in terms of energy, the expenditure associated with transport and treatment of each type of waste, and developed a model for each management option, using LCA techniques to identify the maximum distance that the waste could be transported for treatment while managing environmental impact.

The approach, using four models, was adopted by the Catalan government as a scientifically robust and practical approach to waste management. On the basis of the experience gained in the project, the researchers developed the following recommendations for life cycle management, which could be applied to other regions and environmental policies:

‘Consensus beats reality’ principle – From the start, it should be acknowledged and understood that LCA can never completely represent reality and it will be affected by its assumptions and that the different stakeholders have preconceptions. Although LCA itself cannot be totally realistic, it is important to have consensus about the expectations placed upon it.

‘The three-thirds’ principle – To ensure LCA studies can be useful for, and correctly understood and interpreted by non-LCA experts, resources should be distributed as follows: one third to seek consensus with the client on the goal and scope of the LCA, one third to help the customer understand and use the results, and finally, one third to perform the LCA study itself.

‘Trust beats certainty’ principle – Scientific robustness is important in an LCA, but so is the decision-makers’ level of trust in the method and in the LCA practitioner. Trust must be in place if the LCA is to translate into effective life cycle management and social skills are needed.

‘Good enough is best’ principle – This addresses the issue of whether to base a decision on an incomplete or limited LCA. The study suggests that a suitable approach is to start by settling for simplified LCAs and allow the possibility of a full LCA if there is disagreement on the results.

1. See: http://faostat.fao.org/default.aspx
Source:Fullana i Palmer. P., Puig, R., Bala, A., Baquero G., Riba J., Raugei M. (2011) From Life Cycle Assessment to Life Cycle Management: A Case Study On Industrial Waste Management Policy Making. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 15(3):458-474.

Contact: pere.fullana@esci.es"


2012 +...Maybe the future has already arrived

This is a very interesting article from my good friend David Newman, ISWA's Vice - President and director of ISWA Italia. He is always thinking the broad landscape and provides thoughtful insights about our future. You can find more about David in a very interesting self-description he has written at:


Thanks a lot David for this contribution - my good readers please enjoy it.

"When the financial crisis broke in 2008 I predicted several events whcih have since come to be. I also got some predictions startingly wrong. For example, I predicted that the crisis would lead to several countries declaring bankruptcy, to heavy social unrest, to widespread unemployment, to military style repression on the streets of countries considered democracies. Most of this has come to pass, in one or several countries. Among those that I predicted would survive relatively unscathed was Greece. How wrong can you be ?

Here’s some more predictions three years down the road and looking forward into 2012.

It is unlikely governments will act willingly to drastically reduce the debt burdens. Therefore the banks and the speculators will act for them, forcing countries
like Italy into insolvency (don’t forget, in 1992 the UK went through the same turmoil) and imposing thereafter economic policy. It will be painful. Average standards of living will fall by about twenty percent over the next five years.

Germany will not continue to bail out the weaker countries- France cannot afford to. Spain is on the road to financial stability, Portugal is turning around, but
Ireland, Greece and Italy are bankrupt. How the Eurozone will deal with this is the big unknown but I doubt it will lead to countries leaving the Euro, rather a restructuring of their debts under a programme agreed with other Euro nations, the IMF and the major banks. Forget retiring at 60. More like 70.

Obama risks losing the next election. One of my predictions in 2008 was that he would probably be a disappointment and that the Copenhagen Climate Change meeting in 2009 was his first real testing ground- for the progressives amongst us he has shown himself to be a charismatic failure.
America will not default, nor will it fall into much of a deeper recession. If I were to invest anywhere in the world right now it would the USA.

BRICs + Turkey + Korea
They are laughing all the way to the bank in Brazil, India, Indonesia, China, Turkey and a few other fast growing nations- not everything is working positively but the crises of Europe and the USA are a long way away. Why ? precisely because many of these nations adopted ten years ago the strict public spending regimes Europe and the USA failed to adopt but preached for everyone else ! These countries will grow quickly based on export demand for their products but above all on internal domestic demand. Goldman Sachs estimates by 2020 over 800 million people around the world will join the middle classes, and they all will be from these countries. The environmental conseqeunces are devastating, both in terms of resources consumed and
waste produced.

Then there are some exceptions- Australia, with its rich mineral resources, seems to be in a (rich) world of its own; South Africa and much of black Africa is growing rapidly although their economies are still too small to influence international markets and events and grinding poverty and corruption is still the norm.

And finally there is the Middle East. Two events this year will make ground- breaking changes to the stalemate of antagonism and hatred there.

The first is the Palestinian declaration of independence which will happen this month at the UN. The world will finally be divided between those who recognise and those who do not recognise the Palestinian state. And the political consequences are enormous although volatile.

Secondly, the gas and oil fields found off the Israeli Mediterreanean coast finally give this country energy independence and that means independence from agreements with its neighbours. This may play out in a more relaxed Israeli approach to regional politics, or an even more aggressive approach.

You might say there is a third event, the Arab Spring. And this is so, but who knows how it will evolve ? I am not willing to make a fool of myself by predicting the growth of peaceful, democratic nations that make peace with Israel and live happily ever after; nor do I think Al Queada will take over. But in between there are so many variables in each nation that a prediction would be foolish.

We will survive this period of turmoil and perhaps, in ten years time , come out of it with greatly strengthened economies. Who will lead the pack will be those nations are to change their spending patterns rapidly to turn investments into new technologies and away from financing public debt. Korea is a model. In 2009 it took the decision to invest $80 billion in infrastructure, clean energy, new technologies, and today is the Asian powerhouse after China. But it could afford to do this because in the 1990s it sorted out its bloated public sector, its over-leveraged and corrupt banks, its public finances. Why didn’t we learn this lesson too ?


Impact of landfill caps on leachate emissions – an Austrian case study

This is from "Science for Environment Policy - DG Environment News Alert Service" issue 251.

"Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills, which consist of everyday consumer items, are potential long-term sources of emissions that could threaten the environment and human health if they are not managed carefully after closure. New research has presented a methodology to estimate future emission levels for closed MSW landfills and the impact of different aftercare strategies.

Globally, landfilling is the main method for disposing of solid waste. Highly industrialised countries, such as the US, the UK and Finland, extensively depend on landfilling their waste without any pre-treatment. As MSW landfills are possibly long-term sources of emissions, these sites need to be managed beyond closure.

According to the EU Landfill Directive1, which took effect in 1999, landfill operators have to continue managing sites after closure as long as the authority considers the landfill not likely to present a hazard to the environment any more.
The researchers used an Austrian MSW landfill in Breitenau as a case study to evaluate emission levels from the site and to demonstrate the long-term environmental effects of installing a final cover to prevent emissions. This site was closed in 1989 and was capped with layers of gravel (0.2 metres) and sandy silt (0.9 metres). The temporary cap was removed after 20 years (in 2009) and a composite lining system was installed as the final cover. The study focused on one landfill compartment, which contained around 35,000 tons of MSW.

Leachate emissions decrease very slowly and may have environmental impacts for centuries to come. The approach to evaluate potential future emissions was based on a comprehensive assessment of the state of the landfill and included analysis of monitoring data, investigations of landfilled waste, and an evaluation of containment systems and site-specific factors, such as climate. Future emission levels were modelled and site-specific predictions of leachate emissions were presented.

The results suggest that leachate concentrations increased considerably at the site when there was a change in the water flow pattern of the waste during final cover construction. Specifically, the concentrations of leachate pollutants chloride and ammonia-nitrogen increased from 200 to 800 milligrams per litre (mg/l) and 140 to about 500 mg/l, respectively. It is found that a period of intensive flushing after the change of the water flow pattern and before the final cover installation would have reduced the amount of leachable substances within the landfill and substance concentrations in the leachate would decrease to 11 mg/l of chloride and 79 mg/l of ammonia-nitrogen within 50 years.

A decline in water infiltration due to the installation of an impermeable top cover may lead to high substance concentrations in the leachate for centuries (above 400 mg of chloride per litre and 200 mg ammonia-nitrogen per litre), but with low associated annual emission loads (below 12 kg of chloride and 9 kg of ammonia-nitrogen per year). However, a gradual decrease in the cover’s performance may be expected without cover maintenance and would be associated with higher emission loads of a maximum of 50 kg of chloride and 30 kg of ammonia–nitrogen.
The methodology can be applied to other closed landfill sites to illustrate the effect of different aftercare strategies on the landfill pollution hazard. The researchers caution that emission models should be treated as tools to demonstrate the effect of different landfill conditions and not as deterministic forecasts of the future.

1. See: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:1999:182:0001:0019:EN:PDF

Source: David Laner, D., Fellner, J. & Brunner, P.H. (2011) Future landfill emissions and the effect of final cover installation – A case study. Waste Management. 31 (7):1522-1531

Contact: d.laner@iwa.tuwien.ac.at "