Indexed on: 06 Sep '18Published on: 06 Sep '18Published in: Environmental Science & Technology
The environmental performance of the waste management system of plastic packaging in Austria was assessed using a combination of high-resolution material flows and input-dependent life cycle inventory data. These data were used to evaluate different configurations of the waste management system, reflecting the system structure as it was in 1994 in Austria and still is in some of the new EU member states, as well as a situation achieving the increased circular economy targets to be met by 2030. For the latter, two options, namely single-polymer recycling and mixed-polymer recycling, were investigated. The results showed that the status quo achieves net benefits for 15 out of 16 impact categories evaluated. Regarding the alternative scenarios, for most impact categories these benefits increased with increasing recycling rates, although for four impact categories the highest net benefit was achieved by the status quo. For many impact categories the marginal environmental benefit decreased at higher recycling rates, indicating that there is an environmentally optimal recycling rate below 100%. The results also highlight the importance of high-quality single-polymer plastics recycling from an environmental perspective because utilizing mixed polymer recycling to achieve circular economy targets would result in lower environmental benefits than the status quo.