Karlstad examines recycling for food-waste LCA“There is a question about how much packaging material you can use, if you can show, as a result of its use, that there is a quantifiable reduction in food waste,” explains Helén Williams. “When it comes to the LCA calculation on the impact of the material versus the impact of the food waste, the data on recycling makes a difference. The challenge is that, while plastics may be collected, very little of this stream is actually recycled.”
So far, researchers have been able to bracket recycling impacts between ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ scenarios. “But to make a better judgement, we need more real data about what actually happens to waste that is collected,” she says. “Is it incinerated for energy recovery? Is it, in fact, recycled?”
As Williams makes clear, even perfectly recyclable materials can end up in the wrong waste stream, whether because labels provide consumers with poor disposal guidance, because labels or sleeves render the underlying container unidentifiable to automated sorting equipment – or for other reasons.
A further follow-up to real-world recycling data would be the application of design-for-recycling guidelines which overcome some of these barriers, she says.