Calculating the pre-consumer waste footprint: A screening study of 10 selected products

Knowledge about the total waste generated by the production of consumer goods can help raise awareness among policy-makers, producers and consumers of the benefits of closing loops in a future circular economy, avoiding unnecessary production and production steps and associated generation of large amounts of waste.

In strict life cycle assessment practice, information on waste outputs from intermediate industrial processes of material and energy transformation is translated into and declared as potential environmental impacts, which are often not reported in the final results. In this study, a procedure to extract available intermediate data and perform a systematic pre-consumer waste footprint analysis was developed. The pre-consumer waste footprint concept was tested to analyse 10 generic products, which provided some novel and interesting results for the different product categories and identified a number of challenges that need to be resolved in development of the waste footprint concept.

These challenges include standardised data declaration on waste in life cycle assessment, with a separation into waste categories illustrating the implicit environmental and scale of significance of waste types and quantities (e.g. hazardous waste, inert waste, waste for recycling/incineration) and establishment of a common definition of waste throughout sectors and nations.

In addition to the waste that results as a product is used and discarded, waste is generated during the production process (i.e. during extracting resources, transporting, producing fuels and electricity, manufacturing, etc.). Although most consumers are aware of the amount of waste they generate themselves, relatively few are aware of the waste generated in the course of producing the goods that they consume. Without adequate tools that can help counteract this low transparency owing to temporal and spatial separation of production, consumption and waste management, there is a risk of awareness remaining low or being based on invalid information. This relevant knowledge is also important in a larger context of policy making, when possibilities for reduction of waste need to be identified and progress measured. Previous studies have estimated the post-consumer waste footprint and the pre- and post-consumer waste footprint using socalled extended input-output analysis. The results of these types of region- and sector-aggregated analysis are relevant to governments monitoring and evaluating progress of regions and economic sectors overall.

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