Environmental System Analysis of Waste Management : Experiences from Applications of the ORWARE Model

Abstract: Waste management has gone through a history of shiftingproblems, demands, and strategies over the years. In contrastto the long prevailing view that the problem could be solved byhiding or moving it, waste is now viewed as a problem rangingfrom local to global concern, and as being an integral part ofseveral sectors in society. Decisive for this view has beensociety’s increasing complexity and thus the increasingcomplexity of waste, together with a general development ofenvironmental consciousness, moving from local focus on pointemission sources, to regional and global issues of more complexnature. This thesis is about the development and application orware;a model for computer aided environmental systems analysis ofmunicipal waste management. Its origin is the hypothesis thatwidened perspectives are needed in waste managementdecision-making to avoid severe sub-optimisation ofenvironmental performance. With a strong foundation in lifecycle assessment (LCA), orware aims to cover the environmentalimpacts over the entire life cycle of waste management. It alsoperforms substance flow analysis (SFA) calculations at a ratherdetailed level of the system. Applying orware has confirmed the importance of applyingsystems perspective and of taking into account site specificdifferences in analysis and planning of waste manage-ment,rather than relying on overly simplified solutions. Somefindings can be general-ised and used as guidelines to reduceenvironmental impact of waste management. Recovery of materialand energy resources from waste generally leads to netreductions in energy use and environmental impact, because ofthe savings this brings about in other sectors. Waste treatmentwith low rate of energy and materials recovery should thereforebe avoided. The exact choice of technology however depends onwhat products can be recovered andhow they are used. Despite the complexity of the model and a certain degree ofuser unfriendliness, involved stakeholders have expressed thevalue of participating in orware case studies. It providesimproved decision-basis, but also wider understanding of thecomplexity of waste management and of environmental issues ingeneral. The thesis also contains a first suggestion of a frameworkto handle uncertainty in orware, based on a review of types ofuncertainty in LCA and tools to handle it.