Conference Dates

June 5 – 10, 2022


Material flow-based indicators are a common tool to measure the performance of waste management systems. For example, in the EU recycling rates are used to set targets for circular economy and environmental policies (cf. 94/62/EC, 2008/98/EC). However, the suitability of recycling rates to measure the progress regarding the transformation of a rather linear economy into a more sustainable circular one is limited. Several previous studies showed that recycling rates and other material flow-based indicators do not necessarily correlate with the environmental performance of waste management systems (cf. Haupt et al., 2018; Van Eygen et al., 2018; Schmidt et al., 2020; Rigamonti and Mancini 2021). For example, in the case of plastic packaging waste, recycling rates do not correlate with toxicity related environmental impacts (Schmidt et al., 2020). Another known limitation of recycling rates is that they cannot appropriately reflect waste prevention and reuse activities. Furthermore, recycling rates do typically not account for the fluctuating quality of recycling outputs and the associated functionality of recycled materials. Nevertheless, a major advantage of recycling rates is that they are straightforward to measure and easy to communicate. The aim of this study was to overcome the shortcomings of recycling rates while maintaining the comprehensibility of material flow-based indicators by developing a new LCA-based performance indicator for the plastic packaging waste management system in Germany.

The proposed indicator is a further development of the waste hierarchy index by Pires and Martinho (2019). Following the waste hierarchy index, the proposed indicator is calculated as the weighted sum of waste flows to different treatment paths divided by the total amount of waste generated. The special characteristic of the new indicator is that its weighting factors are derived from LCA results of available waste treatment options depending on the type of waste assessed. For example, in the case of plastic packaging waste, relevant waste treatment paths are the separate collection and processing of reusable PET bottles, the separate collection of single-use PET bottles (part of the German deposit-refund system), the separate collection of plastic packaging waste as part of the mixed light weight packaging waste as well as the treatment of miss-sorted plastic packaging waste items. Besides to well-established treatment paths, prospective treatment paths, as the chemical recycling of separately collected plastic packaging waste are provided. Next to the total indicator score (based on 16 impact categories) information on best and worst scoring impact categories are provided to communicate possible trade-offs. The proposed indicator is suited to assess the environmental performance of a product in a specific waste management system or the waste management system itself in its current and possible future states. The indicator will be introduced, and its use will be illustrated using a case study on plastic packaging waste management in Germany.


Haupt, M., Waser, E., Würmli, J.C., Hellweg, S., (2018): Is there an environmentally optimal separate collection rate? Waste Management 77, 220–224. 10.1016/j.wasman.2018.03.050.

Pires, Ana; Martinho, Graça (2019): Waste hierarchy index for circular economy in waste management. In: Waste management (New York, N.Y.) 95, S. 298–305. DOI: 10.1016/j.wasman.2019.06.014.

Rigamonti, L.; Mancini, E. (2021): Life cycle assessment and circularity indicators. In: Int J Life Cycle Assess 26 (10), S. 1937–1942. DOI: 10.1007/s11367-021-01966-2.

Schmidt, S., Laner, D., Van Eygen, E., Stanisavljevic, N., (2020): Material efficiency to measure the environmental performance of waste management systems: A case study on PET bottle recycling in Austria, Germany and Serbia. Waste Management 110, 74–86. tps://

Van Eygen, E., Laner, D., Fellner, J., 2018. Integrating high-resolution material flow data into the environmental assessment of waste management system scenarios: the case of plastic packaging in Austria. Environ. Sci. Technol. 52 (19), pp. 10934–10945.

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