Data Quality of Organic Waste Characteristics in Life Cycle Assessment of Waste Management: A Review

Conference Dates

June 5 – 10, 2022


The territorial management of organic waste is becoming a growing concern for local governments, especially with the evolution of legislation and policies that aim for the circular economy transition. These materials have the particularity of being very variable in quantity and quality over time and space. Several studies show the existence of correlation between biowaste characteristics and specific parameters of the territory, such as: socio-demographic factors, seasons, consumption patterns of the inhabitants, the applied legislation. (Alvarez et al., 2008; Campuzano and González-Martínez, 2016; Hansen et al., 2007; Secondi et al., 2015). To find the best management pathways for these organic wastes from an environmental perspective, life cycle assessment is a well-known decision support tool for municipalities. It has been demonstrated that, in waste management LCAs, data quality is important, and particularly, waste compositions can have a major influence on the environmental assessment results (Bisinella et al., 2017). Through a literature review, we investigate to what extent LCA inventory data are sufficiently specific and detailed to capture the characteristics of a territory’s value chains, along with the characteristics of its organic waste materials. In other words, are our regionalization efforts sufficiently directed toward raw data collection, or, on the contrary, do we rely excessively on extrapolations and generic data? For this review, we selected papers that study the LCA of biowaste management scenarios in well-defined territories. We found dissimilarity in the characterization of materials in these studies. Some characterize biowaste only by an annual mass quantification. Those ignore the environmental impacts directly associated with the materials, like direct emissions. In other studies, organic waste is characterized by the types of fractions present. Data are often taken from waste characterization campaigns used in other study systems, on a broader geographic scope, i.e., a different regional or national level. Then this information is used to estimate the chemical compositions of the waste through modelling. Finally, other studies are able to characterize organic waste in terms of its elemental compositions and other characteristic parameters like methane potential, thanks to sampling and experimental measurements. Nevertheless, there is also a non-uniformity in these sampling methods. Some consider biowaste to be temporally invariant and work on with very short sampling periods, while other studies pay particular attention to this temporal variability. Others use average data of the different parameters over a longer period. This literature review shows that, from one LCA to another, the methods of organic waste characterization are very different. This heterogeneity threatens our ability to confidently tailor waste management recommendations to the local characteristics and needs of a territory, or to compare results across regional LCA studies. This challenge shows the need for a consistent and rigorous framework for characterizing biowaste in LCAs of territorial waste management systems. This framework will notably help us determine to what extent life-cycle environmental impacts are sensitive to this variation in these local characteristics and its representation in datasets with different levels of resolution.

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