Improving the environmental performance of bio-waste management with life cycle thinking (LCT) and life cycle assessment (LCA)
Background Globally, many countries worldwide aim at increasing the environmental sustainability of waste management activities. Special attention is devoted to bio-waste, as its improper handling may have severe environmental consequences. In particular, most waste management strategies should encourage diverting bio-waste away from landfills to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and leachate. Legislative context The European Waste Framework Directive (WFD 2008/98/EC) defines bio-waste as “biodegradable garden and park waste, food and kitchen waste from households, restaurants, caterers and retail premises and comparable waste from food processing plants”. Bio-waste should not be confused with the wider term “biodegradable waste”, which covers also other biodegradable materials such as wood, paper and cardboard. In Europe, landfilling of untreated bio-waste is being progressively reduced to meet the requirements set by the Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC). Other options for bio-waste management are then prioritised (e.g. biological treatment), in line with the so-called waste hierarchy, the legally binding priority order for waste management established by the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC). Method and outcome However, following the waste hierarchy may not always lead to the identification of the most environmentally sound option, and new approaches are thus needed for a more differentiated and science-based support to decision-making for bio-waste management. For this purpose, the Institute for Environment and Sustainability of the Joint Research Centre has developed guidelines that provide environmentally sound support to decision-making and policy-making for bio-waste management using life cycle thinking and life cycle assessment. The methodological approach developed in these guidelines is presented and contextualised in this paper.