Environmental costs and environmental benefits analysis of packaging waste recovery and recycling targets
Society is faced with the growing problem of waste associated with mass consumption. The treatment and final disposal of waste is linked to a wide range of environmental problems, including loss and wastage of resources, atmospheric, aquatic and land pollution, as well as public health concerns. For these reasons, since the early 1990s there has been an emphasis on waste minimisation and recycling initiatives. The European Commission decided that packaging waste would be its first target in an aim to reduce waste in general - to be followed by several other producer responsibility type legislations. The landfill Directive came into force in 2002 - It reduces the amount of bio-degradable waste that can be landfilled and bans hazardous waste from most landfill sites. The End of Life Vehicle Directive came into force in 2003 and put the responsibility on the producer to organize recovery and recycling of vehicles. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) came into force in 2004 and requires manufacturers of such products to finance their recovery and recycling. This study looks at the UK Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 and the targets that have been chosen to enable the UK to fulfil the requirements of the European Directive (94/62/EC) on Packaging and Packaging Waste. The aim of the research focuses on establishing target levels with maximum environmental benefits, specifically for recovering and recycling cardboard packaging waste in the UK. The methodology used is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which considers the whole life cycle of cardboard packaging, including the manufacture of packaging from raw (or recycled) fibres, its transport and use and waste management options. A range of scenarios have been modelled to reflect present day achievements, the levels of recycling expected of Member States through the revised Directive targets, as well as extreme scenarios. The scenarios are: Base scenario: 53% recycling, 4.23% incineration and 42.77% landfill Scenario 2: 60% recycling with 37.2% landfill and 2.8% incineration Scenario 3: 70% recycling with 27.9% landfill and 2.1 % incineration Scenario 4: 80% recycling with 18.6% landfill and 1.4% incineration Scenario 5: 35% recycling with 60.45% landfill and 4.55% incineration Scenario 6: 100% landfill Scenario 8: 100% incineration. It was found that significant reductions in global warming and carcinogens are associated with increasing levels of recycling (the highest level assessed was 80% recycling), but this comes at a cost of a slight increase in energy usage impacts. Global warming impacts fall by 20% with an increase in recycling from 53% to 80%. However, some of these potential benefits are compromised if waste cardboard needs to be exported to Europe for recycling. This particular project is looking at waste related policy issues. However it needs to be acknowledged that the manufacturing of cardboard packaging accounts for a significant proportion of the total burdens associated with the cardboard-packaging life cycle. These burdens are not affected by waste management policies; instead they would require improvements in the manufacturing processes to be made.