Life Cycle Assessment to better manage waste

Life Cycle Assessment to better manage waste

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L'LCA (Lyfe Cycle Assessment) considers the material balance, the consumption of energy and materials, emissions into air and water and the production of waste and / or other useful products and evaluates the environmental impact translated into global warming, acidification, human toxicity, consumption of non-renewable resources. "If applied to waste management, theLCA (Life Cycle Assessment) it can be used as a tool to support planners' decisions during the drafting and updating phase of the territorial waste management plans ". So Lucia Rigamonti, professor of the Department of Hydraulic, Environmental, Road Infrastructure, Survey al Politecnico di Milano, explains in what the method and the concrete advantages deriving from it. And it would ensue.

1) What does the LCA study consist of? In what type of studies is it addressed and since when has it been studied?

There Life Cycle Assessment - LCA it is part of that methodological instrumentation developed to allow sustainable development, with preventive interventions. The life cycle of a product, or of any human activity, is examined "from cradle to grave" through the compilation of an inventory of inputs (materials, energy, natural resources) and outputs (emissions into air, water, soil ) of the system, the assessment of potential environmental impacts associated with these inventories, the analysis of the results of the two previous phases and finally the definition of the possible lines of intervention. The first examples of life cycle analysis date back to the early 1970s.

2) What practical applications does this type of studies have?

LCA is a technique originally developed to assess the environmental impacts of products and production processes. Subsequently, the method was applied not only to products, but also to services, including those related to waste management.

3) What kind of products do you deal with? What do you "measure" as an input?

In the Environmental Section of DIIAR (Department of Hydraulic, Environmental, Road Infrastructure, Survey), theLCA it is mainly applied for the evaluation of integrated urban waste management systems and of all the parts that make up these systems (e.g. recycling of packaging materials, waste-to-energy of residual waste, anaerobic digestion of the organic fraction). For each process under consideration, the necessary input data are the material balance, the consumption of energy and materials, the emissions into air and water and the production of waste and / or other useful products (such as energy, compost, from recycling).

4) What type of environmental impact do you assess? How?

Using the so-called characterization methods available in the literature, which translate the inventory data into impact, we evaluate, depending on the study, impacts such as global warming, acidification, photochemical ozone formation, human toxicity, resource consumption non-renewable.

5) How can your results be used by local administrations? And from companies?

The study of LCA it allows to identify the most critical phases (from an environmental point of view) of the life cycle of the product / system in question and indicates how these phases could be improved.

If applied to waste management, LCA can be used as a decision support tool for planners during the drafting and updating of their territorial waste management plans.

6) What does the Gerla project consist of?

In the project GERLA (Waste Management in Lombardy - Life cycle analysis), commissioned by CESTEC (Center for Technological Development, Energy and Competitiveness) for the Lombardy Region, the LCA methodology was applied for the analysis of the environmental performance of the current regional and provincial management of urban waste. On the basis of the interpretation of the results obtained for the base scenario (urban waste management in the Lombardy Region in 2009), management scenarios were formulated in 2020, which were also then assessed with the LCA methodology to verify and quantify the improvements associated with the various actions implemented.

7) What positive aspects did it show and what possibilities for improvement?

The GERLA study highlighted that the current integrated management of urban waste in the Lombardy Region is already characterized by good energy-environmental performance. However, there is room for improvement, based on the one hand on a further practicable increase in separate collection rates and on the other on a series of technological / managerial interventions essentially applicable to the organic fraction and residual waste supply chains.

Interview byMarta Abbà

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