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The complex composition of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) plastics represents a challenge during post-consumption plastic recycling. A single WEEE category, e.g. large household appliances (LHA), can contain several different plastic types with overlapping material properties, making the sorting of individual plastics a challenge. Significant increases in plastic recovery rates can be expected by clustering product categories, as clustering can avoid mixing of non-compatible plastics with overlapping material properties. For this purpose, a life cycle assessment (LCA) is conducted to investigate the influence of different clustering strategies on the environmental performance of waste treatment and the production of recycled plastic from LHA waste stream. To assure comparability between waste treatment scenarios a system expansion approach is applied, and to allocate the burden of shared processes over the first and second use cycle of the material partitioning is applied. Results show that an increased separation of product clusters by plastic type can improve the plastic recovery rate from 5.8% to 47.1% and reduce the overall environmental impact, quantified with the ReCiPe (2016) method, by up to 23%. The environmental impacts of using recycled plastics from LHA waste can be reduced by 27 to 38% compared to single-use plastic. The holistic approach used in this study demonstrates (1) the potential benefits of implementing product clustering strategies for LHA plastic recycling, (2) the relevance of different allocation procedures when integrating recycling into an LCA, (3) the importance of using less virgin material and avoiding final waste treatment, and (4) the limitation of the recycling system to reduce the environmental burden associated with products. Copyright © 2021 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Citation

Ellen Bracquené, Mariana Gaspar Martinez, Eduard Wagner, Florian Wagner, Alexander Boudewijn, Jef Peeters, Joost Duflou. Quantifying the environmental impact of clustering strategies in waste management: A case study for plastic recycling from large household appliances. Waste management (New York, N.Y.). 2021 May 01;126:497-507

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PMID: 33838389

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