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Beyond recycling: an LCA-based decision-support tool to accelerate Scotland's transition to a circular economy

Salemdeeb, Ramy; Saint, Ruth; Pomponi, Francesco; Pratt, Kimberley; Lenaghan, Michael


Ramy Salemdeeb

Ruth Saint

Kimberley Pratt

Michael Lenaghan


Resources and waste strategies have recently seen a shift in focus from weight-based recycling targets to impact-driven policies. To support this transition, numerous decision-support tools were developed to help identify waste streams with the highest impacts. However, the majority of these tools focus solely on greenhouse gas emissions and show a narrow picture of the overall environmental impacts. Furthermore, they cover burdens associated with direct waste management activities and hence fall short when it comes to highlighting the substantial benefits that can be achieved by preventing waste in the first place. This paper quantitatively demonstrates the necessity to adopt impact-based targets that go beyond estimating the greenhouse gas emissions of waste and highlights the substantial benefits of waste reduction and prevention. Using a state-of-the-art waste environmental footprint tool, the paper quantifies the overall environmental impacts of Scotland's household waste and shows how targeting ‘heavy’ materials does not necessarily have the highest overall environmental benefit. Results show that embodied environmental impacts of household waste dominate the total environmental burdens, contributing more than 90% to the whole life cycle impacts, and hence policymakers should prioritise interventions that aim at waste reduction and prevention. Moreover, our analysis shows that food and textile wastes are high-priority materials in Scotland, with the largest contribution to overall environmental burdens; up to 42% and 30%, respectively. Considering the overall environmental impacts of specific waste materials will enable policymakers to develop more granular and targeted interventions to accelerate our transition to a sustainable circular economy.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 8, 2022
Online Publication Date Feb 10, 2022
Publication Date 2022-05
Deposit Date Feb 14, 2022
Publicly Available Date Feb 11, 2023
Journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling Advances
Print ISSN 0921-3449
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 13
Article Number 200069
Keywords Life cycle assessment, Policy development, Resource and waste management, Circular economy, Zero waste
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