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

Sophie Huysveld (UGent) , Sara Hubo (UGent) , Kim Ragaert (UGent) and Jo Dewulf (UGent)
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Abstract
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
Keywords
Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment, Strategy and Management, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, General Environmental Science

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Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

Chicago
Huysveld, Sophie, Sara Hubo, Kim Ragaert, and Jo Dewulf. 2019. “Advancing Circular Economy Benefit Indicators and Application on Open-loop Recycling of Mixed and Contaminated Plastic Waste Fractions.” Journal of Cleaner Production 211: 1–13.
APA
Huysveld, S., Hubo, S., Ragaert, K., & Dewulf, J. (2019). Advancing circular economy benefit indicators and application on open-loop recycling of mixed and contaminated plastic waste fractions. Journal of Cleaner Production, 211, 1–13.
Vancouver
1.
Huysveld S, Hubo S, Ragaert K, Dewulf J. Advancing circular economy benefit indicators and application on open-loop recycling of mixed and contaminated plastic waste fractions. Journal of Cleaner Production. Elsevier BV; 2019;211:1–13.
MLA
Huysveld, Sophie, Sara Hubo, Kim Ragaert, et al. “Advancing Circular Economy Benefit Indicators and Application on Open-loop Recycling of Mixed and Contaminated Plastic Waste Fractions.” Journal of Cleaner Production 211 (2019): 1–13. Print.
@article{8583246,
  abstract     = {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 {\textquoteleft}d{\textquoteright} 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},
  author       = {Huysveld, Sophie and Hubo, Sara and Ragaert, Kim and Dewulf, Jo},
  issn         = {0959-6526},
  journal      = {Journal of Cleaner Production},
  pages        = {1--13},
  publisher    = {Elsevier BV},
  title        = {Advancing circular economy benefit indicators and application on open-loop recycling of mixed and contaminated plastic waste fractions},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.11.110},
  volume       = {211},
  year         = {2019},
}

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