Mercè Roca, ESCI-UPF researcher, academic coordinator and academic director of MScIB, writes about the proposals offered to 4th course students for being a research assistant on two sustainability projects.
As researchers worldwide are working on finding more sustainable approaches to analyze waste management systems’ performance, a new study sheds light on that by comparing two alternative packaging waste management systems in Spain.
“Food and beverage packaging represent a relevant fraction of municipal solid waste, and its adequate management is critical,” according to the researchers. To address this issue, researchers at the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF have environmentally compared the Spanish’s current waste management system of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), with the hypothetical implementation of a new system, where a Deposit and Return System (DRS) for a certain type of beverage packaging would coexist with a reduced EPR; under the umbrella of the ARIADNA study. Furthermore, this study has also enjoyed the cooperation from researchers at the Universidad de Cantabria, who have led the critical review panel of the study.
To compare both systems, the researchers have applied the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology that involves the evaluation of several environmental impacts of a system through all stages of its life cycle. Based on this analysis, the researchers have found that although the environmental savings of the new system are superior to its impacts, even if the DRS would reach a value of 90% for the package return index, the current EPR system obtains significantly better environmental results.
As stated in the results, all impact categories representing environmental issues of concern are favourable to the current EPR system, except the Abiotic Depletion Potential (ADP)—a measure of the scarcity of a substance (natural gas, hard coal, lignite or crude oil)—, where the potentially higher DRS recycling rate is manifested. Even so, the impact associated with the flow of specific DRS packages in the new system is clearly higher than that linked to the flow of DRS excluded packages, managed by the EPR system, and is even higher than the impact of the total joint flow in the current EPRS for all categories except ADP. “The fundamental cause of this high impact is the backhauling stage to transport the recovered packages to the counting plants without compacting,” as reported by the researchers.
Published in the journal Science of The Total Environment, this work has developed a methodology for the evaluation of optimal packaging waste management systems, focused on food and beverage. The developed approach supposes a methodological advance that can be extended to previously realized studies about the implementation of waste management systems in other contexts. Thus, “results can be used to facilitate the decision-making under a life cycle approach,” as stated by the researchers.