Towards increased recycling of household waste: Documenting cascading effects and material efficiency of commingled recyclables and biowaste collection

Ciprian Cimpan, Marianne Rothmann, Lorie Hamelin, Henrik Wenzel

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Municipal solid waste (MSW) management remains a challenge, even in Europe where several countries now possess capacity to treat all arising MSW, while others still rely on unsustainable disposal pathways. In the former, strategies to reach higher recycling levels are affecting existing waste-to-energy (WtE) treatment infrastructure, by inducing additional overcapacity and this in turn rebounds as pressure on the waste and recyclable materials markets. This study addresses such situations by documenting the effects, in terms of resource recovery, global warming potential (GWP) and cumulative energy demand (CED), of a transition from a self-sufficient waste management system based on minimal separate collection and efficient WtE, towards a system with extended separate collection of recyclable materials and biowaste. In doing so, it tackles key questions: (1) whether recycling and biological treatment are environmentally better compared to highly efficient WtE, and (2) what are the implications of overcapacity-related cascading effects, namely waste import, when included in the comparison of alternative waste management systems. System changes, such as the implementation of kerbside separate collection of recyclable materials were found to significantly increase material recovery, besides leading to substantial GWP and CED savings in comparison to the WtE-based system. Bio-waste separate collection contributed with additional savings when co-digested with manure, and even more significantly when considering future renewable energy background systems reflecting the benefits induced by the flexible use of biogas. Given the current liberalization of trade in combustible waste in Europe, waste landfilling was identified as a short-to-medium-term European-wide waste management marginal reacting to overcapacity effects induced by the implementation of increased recycling strategies. When waste import and, consequently, avoided landfilling were included in the system boundary, additional savings of up to 700kg CO2 eq. and 16GJ eq. of primary energy per tonne of imported waste were established. Conditions, such as energy recovery efficiency, and thresholds beyond which import-related savings potentially turn into GWP burdens were also determined.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Issue number1 July
Pages (from-to)69-83
Publication statusPublished - 1. Jul 2015


  • Commingled recyclables
  • Material efficiency
  • Waste management systems
  • Combustible waste shipments
  • Consequential LCA
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • Community Participation
  • Family Characteristics
  • Refuse Disposal
  • Recycling
  • Waste Management/methods


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