Incentives for energy recovery in LCA for plastics

Type Research project
Time period 2020-11-01 - 2021-01-31

This project is a continuation of the project modelling of recycling that aimed to analyzing and debating how recycling should be modeled in life cycle assessment (LCA) and similar environmental assessments and contributing to international harmonization processes such as EU Environmental Footprint. In this project the aim is to increase the knowledge on whether results from LCA gives the wrong incentives, favoring energy recovery over material recycling for plastics. It also aims to increase knowledge about if this problem can be solved by the use of Factor B in the product environmental footprint (PEF) methodology and/or by applying a wider system perspective on energy recovery that includes imports of waste and the subsequent waste management in the exporting countries.


To recycle plastics rather than sending it to energy recovery if often preferable from an environmental point of view. In LCA the positive environmental impact is shared between the recycled product and the product the is produced from the recycled material. The positive environmental impact could end up being less then if the product was sent to energy recovery even if it in reality is better to recycle than to recover the energy from the product. This might give consumers the wrong impression that sorting waste is unnecessary and instead send all plastic waste to energy recovery. The incentive to producers to design for material recycling is also lost when it looks like energy recovery is the best choice from an environmental point of view.

EUs method for Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) has introduced and opportunity to solve this problem by lowering the positive environmental impact from energy recovery. But it is not used frequently. Another possibility is to take a wider system perspective in the modelling of energy recovery, instead of only presume that energy from waste replaces other electrify or district heat production.

Aim & objectives

This project aim to increase the knowledge of to what extent results from LCA´s gives the wrong incentives, favoring energy recovery from plastic waste over material recycling. It will also increase knowledge about if this can be solved by:

1) the use of factor B in PEF-methodology

2) a wider system perspective that includes the effects of energy recovery on imports of waste and therefore the waste management in other countries

The project will combine knowledge and insights from previous project about modelling of recycling with environmental data for plastics and continue to evaluate and discuss the circular footprint formula with focus on the impacts from factor B on the outcome. Modelling of waste mangement of polyethen (LDPE) produced both from renewable and fossil resources will also be carried out during the project.


In January 21, 2021 Tomas Ekvall, Marie Gottfridsson and Maja Nellström presented the results at a webinar. You can find a recording of the webinar on Swedish Life Cycle Centers Youtube Channel or watch it below.

Results from the project has been presented at two conferences

A journal article was published in Waste Management Volume 136, December 2021, Pages 153-161. Link to article

Project organisation
TERRA IVL Chalmers university of Technology