Environmental and Economic Assessment of Swedish Municipal Solid Waste Management in a Systems Perspective

Abstract: Waste management is something that affects most people. Thewaste amounts are still increasing, but the waste treatment ischanging towards recycling and integrated solutions. In Swedenproducers’responsibility for different products, a taxand bans on deposition of waste at landfills implicates areorganisation of the municipal solid waste management. Plansare made for new incineration plants, which leads to that wastecombustion comes to play a role in the reorganisation of theSwedish energy system as well. The energy system is supposed toadapt to governmental decisions on decommission of nuclearplants and decreased use of fossil fuels.Waste from private households consists of hazardous waste,scrap waste, waste electronics and wastes that to a largeextent are generated in the kitchen. The latter type has beenstudied in this thesis, except for newsprint, glass- and metalpackages that by source separation haven’t ended up in thewaste bin. Besides the remaining amount of the above mentionedfractions, the waste consists of food waste, paper, cardboard-and plastic packages and inert material. About 80-90 % of thismixed household waste is combustible, and the major part ofthat is also possible to recycle.Several systems analyses of municipalsolid waste managementhave been performed. Deposition at landfill has been comparedto energy recovery, recycling of material (plastic andcardboard) and recycling of nutrients (in food waste).Environmental impact, fuel consumption and costs are calculatedfor the entire lifecycle from the households, until the wasteis treated and the by-products have been taken care of.To stop deposition at landfills is the most importantmeasure to take as to decrease the environmental impact fromlandfills, and instead use the waste as a resource, therebysubstituting production from virgin resources (avoidingresource extraction and emissions). The best alternative tolandfilling is incineration, but also material recycling andbiological treatment are possible.Recycling of plastic has slightly less environmental impactand energy consumption than incineration. The difference issmall due to that plastic is such a small part of the totalwaste amount, and that just a small part of the collectedamount is recycled. Cardboard recycling is comparable toincineration; there are both advantages and disadvantages.Source separation of food waste may lead to higher transportemissions due to intensified collection, but severalenvironmental advantages are observed if the waste is digestedand the produced biogas substitutes diesel in busses.Composting has no environmental advantages compared toincineration, mainly due to lack of energy recovery. Therecycling options are more expensive than incineration. Theincreased cost must be seen in relation to the environmentalbenefits and decreased energy use. If the work with sourceseparation made by the households is included in the analysis,the welfare costs for source separation and recycling becomesnon-profitable. It is however doubted how much time is consumedand how it should be valuated in monetary terms.In systems analyses, several impacts are not measured.Environmental impact has been studied, but not allenvironmental impact. As the parts of the system are underconstant change, the results are not true forever. Recyclingmay not be unambiguously advantageous today, but it can be inthe future.Despite the fact that systems analysis has been developedduring 10 years in Sweden, there are still many decisions takenregarding waste management without support from systemsanalysis and use of computer models. The minority of users ispleased with the results achieved, but the systems analysis isfar from easy to use. The adaptation of tools and models to thedemands from the potential users should consider thatorganisations of different sizes have shifting demands andneeds.The application areas for systems analysis and models arestrategic planning, decisions about larger investments andeducation in universities and within organisations. Systemsanalysis and models may be used in pre-planning procedures. Apotential is a more general application (Technology Assessment)in predominantly waste- and biofuel based energy processes, butalso for assessment of new technical components in a systemsperspective. The methodology and systems approach developedwithin the systems analysis has here been transformed to anassessment of environmental, economic and technical prestandaof technical systems in a broad sense.

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