High-value recycling

Waste streams can often be recycled in different ways, begging the question what form of recycling is of greatest value. The aim of this study was to design a general method for determining the relative value of alternative recycling routes. To do so we started from the well-established Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, using it to create a ‘policy formula’ for use as a rule-of-thumb by policy-makers and develop an LCA-based ‘multicycle LCA method’ (mLCA) that crunches the numbers. The policy formula is more narrative in nature. We then applied the two approaches to five case studies: PET waste, A/B waste wood, scrap cars, concrete rubble and roof waste, and drew conclusions. While a fairly wide range of wastes were considered, validation in additional case studies might identify scope for further improvement. The conclusions of this study are therefore provisional, as the methods are still under development. The methods proceed from the ‘hierarchy of wastes’, circular-economy principles and LCA science.

This project was led by CE Delft in collaboration with Rebel and IVAM Environmental Research, Amsterdam. and was commissioned by the Directorate-General of Public Works and Water Management, Rijswaterstaat. Supplementing this analysis, an economic analysis was also carried out in cooperation with Rebel to elaborate the notion of ‘high-value recycling’, which is available online (in Dutch): 

Further information on this project and follow-up activities can be found (in Dutch) on the Rijkswaterstaat website