Waste is generated along the production of productsand also when unwanted products are discarded. This project builds upon previous work to advance a methodological approach for quantification and communication of the pre-consumer waste footprint of products.
Waste is generated along the production of products (i.e. during extracting resources, processing and production) and also when unwanted products are discarded. Although most consumers are aware of the amount of waste they dispose of, relatively few are aware of the waste generated in the course of producing the goods that they consume. This project builds upon previous work to advance a methodological approach for quantification and communication of the pre-consumer waste footprint of products. The purpose is to address the main criticism that the work received in a peer-review process: how to deal with the subjectivity of waste, are the indicator appropriated for communicating results, what is the usefulness of a product waste footprint. An online open consultation was carried out in order to gather opinions and inputs of several stakeholder groups (e.g. life cycle assessment (LCA) experts and practitioners, waste management experts, consumers, and authorities) on 5 methodological details (MDs) of the approach: MD1 effectiveness for differentiating waste and by-products, MD2 effectiveness for defining which material flow shall be accounted for, MD3 adequacy for representing an indicator to convey environmental significance of waste types, MD4 usefulness of a product waste footprint metric for stakeholder groups and MD5 usefulness of a product waste footprint metric in different contexts. Most of the respondents expressed that the guidelines described in the methodology are good enough for the purposes of MD1-2. Part of the respondents found the draft guidelines for MD1-2, which were based the Interpretative Communication on waste and by-products of the European Commission, to be unnecessarily complex for the exercise; hence not sufficiently adequate. Furthermore, some responses from prominent LCA experts and practitioners declared that qualitatively attributing environment significance to different types of wastes may not be adequate (MD3). The results also suggested that a product waste footprint metric would be mostly useful and/or needed (MD4) for (1) consumers and (2) government; and in contexts (MD5) of (a) improving environmental awareness of consumers, (b) environmental policy making, (c) visualising waste flows in a circular economy and (d) improving resource efficiency in industry, and less useful/needed (MD5) in a (e) business-to-business context. Finally, although the PWF is fundamentally a simple measure of resource use and not of eventual environmental damage (e.g. abiotic resource depletion, eutrophication, land use change), further studies could examine whether the PWF is a good proxy of life cycle environmental impacts in specific categories of product or manufacturing process. The LCA community is encourage to devote more attention to how consumers may or may not use product related environmental information and apply this knowledge in advancing metrics that are useful for consumers.
Coworkers: Rafael Laurenti
Report number: C254
Authors: Rafael Laurenti