Project background

Municipal waste generation has been increasing in Europe during the last years, moving from 458 kg per person in 1995 to 518 kg per person in 2005, and being that the general trend in all European countries. Approximately 35% in weight of municipal waste is packaging waste, and it is also increasing every year.
Currently, all the population in Portugal and 97% of the population in Spain, have access to the selective collection of light packaging and paper and cardboard. However, in terms of territorial coverage, only 73% of municipalities in Spain have implemented this system. Spanish municipalities are very dispersed located from one another, and one single municipality can contain different towns without any physical connection between them. In fact, there are 8,111 municipalities formed by more than 56,400 towns, the majority of which have less than 50 inhabitants. As a result, there is a growing concern and open debate about the convenience, from the economical, social and environmental point of view, of extending the selective collection to those areas.

From an environmental perspective, raw material used, energy consumption and emissions during packaging production are quantitatively comparable to the levels consumed and emitted during the recycling process of waste packaging materials. To obtain raw materials from waste recycling, it is necessary to collect, transport, classify and finally process them, which also imply the consumption of water, energy and additional materials. Thus, it is necessary to make a balance and check whether environmental benefits of selective collection and recycling are higher than resource consumption and pollution during those processes.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a well known and objective tool for environmental analysis of products and services. LCA could be used to compare different waste treatment options or to compare different stages of the process (containers production, transport, recycling, landfilling…). This methodology allows to determine which stages are the most environmentally harmful and to do a balance among the benefits of the recycling activity in comparison with collection and transportation phases, for instance.

In order to achieve all the potential benefits of LCA for packaging waste management, it is essential to have an interactive and easy-to-use LCA software tool, including different waste treatment options and models that could be adapted to different realities.