Assessing recycling versus incineration of key materials in municipal waste: The importance of efficient energy recovery and transport distances.Waste Manag. 2012 May; 32(5):1009-18.WM
Recycling of materials from municipal solid waste is commonly considered to be superior to any other waste treatment alternative. For the material fractions with a significant energy content this might not be the case if the treatment alternative is a waste-to-energy plant with high energy recovery rates. The environmental impacts from recycling and from incineration of six material fractions in household waste have been compared through life cycle assessment assuming high-performance technologies for material recycling as well as for waste incineration. The results showed that there are environmental benefits when recycling paper, glass, steel and aluminium instead of incinerating it. For cardboard and plastic the results were more unclear, depending on the level of energy recovery at the incineration plant, the system boundaries chosen and which impact category was in focus. Further, the environmental impact potentials from collection, pre-treatment and transport was compared to the environmental benefit from recycling and this showed that with the right means of transport, recyclables can in most cases be transported long distances. However, the results also showed that recycling of some of the material fractions can only contribute marginally in improving the overall waste management system taking into consideration their limited content in average Danish household waste.