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Life Cycle Thinking and Waste Policy: Between Science and Society
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Ecology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9869-9707
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study investigates the application of life cycle thinking (LCT) and life cycle assessment (LCA) in the field of waste management from perspectives based in the social sciences. LCT is explored through the theoretical construct of regimes, drawing theoretical resources from a combination of the ‘pragmatic turn’, the economics of conventions and transition theory.This work is based on eight papers treating theoretical arguments, qualitative and quantitative analysis, case studies and semi-structured interview data. LCT is placed in the context of contemporary societies. LCA is seen as an instrument of quantification and evaluation used by actors which have both similar and disparate objectives, and who offer justifications for its use through arguments embedded in conflicting pluralities of worth. Furthermore, this work analyses LCA as a tool for the qualification of the waste hierarchy; a waste management principle articulating a convention based on closed material cycles. This study argues that the technological trajectory of waste management regimes has been significantly influenced, inter alia, by actors’ institutional articulation of the waste hierarchy at national and territorial levels. It discusses the legitimacy of LCA, and the quantitative application of LCT, as an intermediary object used to qualify the waste hierarchy. Furthermore, LCT is placed in a prospective context which may be used to assist in the transition toward sustainable waste management.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2012. , xiii, 131 p.
Series
Trita-IM, ISSN 1402-7615 ; 2012:30
Keyword [en]
Life cycle thinking; life cycle assessment; waste policy; waste hierarchy; coordination; conventions; legitimacy
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-105781ISBN: 978-91-7501-555-2 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-105781DiVA: diva2:572346
Public defence
2012-12-17, F3, Lindstedtsvägen, 26, KTH, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

QC 20121127

Available from: 2012-11-27 Created: 2012-11-26 Last updated: 2012-11-27Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Plastic waste management in the context of a European recycling society: Comparing results and uncertainties in a life cycle perspective
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Plastic waste management in the context of a European recycling society: Comparing results and uncertainties in a life cycle perspective
2010 (English)In: Resources, Conservation and Recycling, ISSN 0921-3449, E-ISSN 1879-0658, Vol. 55, no 2, 246-259 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

A number of life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have been undertaken within the last 15 years comparing end-of-life treatment options for post-consumer plastic waste, including techniques such as: mechanical recycling, feedstock recycling, incineration with energy recovery and landfilling. These have attempted to support decisions in the formulation of waste management strategies and policies. In light of the introduction of life cycle thinking into European waste policies, specifically in relation to the waste hierarchy, a literature review of publically available LCA studies evaluating alternative end-of-life treatment options for plastic waste has been conducted. This has been done in order to: establish if a consensus exists as to the environmentally preferable treatment option for plastic waste; identify the methodological considerations and assumptions that have led to these conclusions; and determine the legitimacy of applying the waste hierarchy to the plastic waste stream. The majority of the LCA studies concluded that, when single polymer plastic waste fractions with little organic contamination are recycled and replace virgin plastic at a ratio of close to 1:1, recycling is generally the environmentally preferred treatment option when compared to municipal solid waste incineration. It has been found that assumptions relating to the virgin material substitution ratio and level of organic contamination can have a significant influence upon the results of these studies. Although a limited number of studies addressed feedstock recycling, feedstock recycling and the use of plastic waste as a solid recovered fuel in cement kilns were preferred to municipal solid waste incineration. Landfilling of plastic waste compared to municipal solid waste incineration proved to be the least preferred option for all impact categories except for global warming potential. Due to the uncertainty surrounding some assumptions in the studies, it cannot be said with confidence that the waste hierarchy should be applied to plastic waste management as a general rule.

Keyword
Life cycle assessment, Plastic waste, Waste hierarchy, Recycling, Environmental impacts
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-29528 (URN)10.1016/j.resconrec.2010.09.014 (DOI)000285659100018 ()2-s2.0-78649319944 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20110207Available from: 2011-02-07 Created: 2011-02-07 Last updated: 2017-12-11Bibliographically approved
2. The influence of the waste hierarchy in shaping European waste management: the case of plastic waste
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The influence of the waste hierarchy in shaping European waste management: the case of plastic waste
2010 (English)In: Regional Development Dialogue, ISSN 0250-6505, Vol. 31, no 2, 124-148 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Waste management in Europe has experienced significant changes since the 1970s. The majority of Member State waste management regimes have shifted from policies based on the control of waste disposal activities, to include goals for waste prevention and recovery. The rapid increase of plastic packaging recycling in Germany had a number of unintended consequences. In the first years of the Packaging Ordinance, the majority of plastic packaging collected was exported to China, Eastern Europe, and other EU Member States due to lack of national capacity. The setting of high recycling targets for plastic packaging waste between 1991 and 1998 and the prohibition of incineration with energy recovery was a key driver of recycling technology innovation in Germany. When adopting new principles to serve as the foundation of belief, they should synchronize with the existing waste management myths of individual regions, as myths may differ from region to region illustrating different cultural ideals.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Nagoya, Japan: United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD), 2010
National Category
Other Chemical Engineering Other Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-72948 (URN)2-s2.0-79954615484 (Scopus ID)
Note

QC 20120219

Available from: 2012-02-01 Created: 2012-02-01 Last updated: 2016-05-19Bibliographically approved
3. The application of life cycle thinking in the context of European waste policy
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The application of life cycle thinking in the context of European waste policy
2012 (English)In: Journal of Cleaner Production, ISSN 0959-6526, E-ISSN 1879-1786, Vol. 29-30, 199-207 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

As the impetus of life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle thinking (LCT) in waste management policy is increasing, decision makers may face conflicting advice on the potential environmental impacts of competing end-of-life treatment options. This paper discusses the problem posed by the Waste Framework Directive, 2008/98/EC, where LCT is required to justify the departure of waste streams from the waste hierarchy. This paper places LCA of waste management systems in the context of applying 'normal' science to 'post-normal' problems. The current application of La in waste policy is reviewed in order to determine the epistemic basis to such applications. Furthermore, several cases are reviewed where controversy has surrounded the a priori purpose of applying LCT; the justification of a clear-cut solution to environmental problems. We show how the excess of objectivity, the social construction of knowledge and the playing out of actors' games may limit the ability of LCT to offer an authoritative justification for the derogation of waste streams from the waste hierarchy. However, one of the major benefits of LCT lies in its ability to change actors problem perception. Hence, the application of LCT may be better suited to both the identification of areas of environmental impact and the positioning of waste management solutions further up the waste policy agenda.

Keyword
Waste management, Policy, Decision making, Life cycle thinking, Life cycle assessment, Waste hierarchy
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-95484 (URN)10.1016/j.jclepro.2012.01.030 (DOI)000303305600021 ()2-s2.0-84859557364 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20120528Available from: 2012-05-28 Created: 2012-05-28 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved
4. A conceptual framework for life cycle thinking in transitions toward sustainable waste management
Open this publication in new window or tab >>A conceptual framework for life cycle thinking in transitions toward sustainable waste management
2011 (English)In: Trends and Future of Sustainable Development: Book of Abstracts / [ed] Jenni Elo, Hanna Lakkala & Anna Linna, Turku, Finland: Uniprint , 2011, 33-33 p.Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

As society continues its pursuit of sustainable development the importance of resourceefficiency and waste management has become increasingly recognised. As a consequence, a number ofEuropean policies implement the concept of life cycle thinking in order to reduce the negativeenvironmental impact of waste management systems. The benefit of life cycle thinking is that itsholistic perspective allows one to account for the environmental impacts or benefits of not only thewaste system but connected systems - such as energy and material production. However, the currentuse of life cycle thinking in long-term waste management strategy has been called into questionregarding its ability to facilitate a transition toward sustainable waste management.This paper presents a conceptual framework for the use of life cycle thinking as an element insustainability transitions. It draws on transition theory and the concept of conventional regimes(economics of conventions) in order to provide a new perspective on the relationship between life cyclethinking and sustainable waste management.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Turku, Finland: Uniprint, 2011
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-72111 (URN)978-952-249-118-3 (ISBN)
Conference
13th International Conference 'Trends and Future of Sustainable Development'. Tampere, Finland 9-10 June 2011
Note

QC 20120410

Available from: 2012-01-31 Created: 2012-01-31 Last updated: 2016-06-22Bibliographically approved
5. Conventional regimes: Part I: Sustainability transitions from a conventional perspective
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Conventional regimes: Part I: Sustainability transitions from a conventional perspective
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Innovation studies often use regimes as a theoretical construct to underst and technological evolution.Theories such as the multi-level perspective of system innovation depart from foundations found in science and technology studies, evolutionary economics, structuration theory and neo-institutional theory. Several constructive criticisms, however, have been levelled against the multi-level perspective suggesting it may be overly functionalistic and risk neglecting the role of agency. This paper revisits such criticisms in addition to the conceptualisation of rules and agency in the multi-level perspective. Subsequently, this paper draws on an emerging school of economic thought, suggesting a conceptual framework of regimes based in the economicsof conventions. This paper outlines the theoretical basis to concept of conventional regimes, highlighting a case of innovation where the emergence of principles which depart from those of the conventional regime has led to the development of niche spaces for innovation, departing from the conventional regime. This paper goes onto compare some of the commonalities and difference between this approach to studying innovation and the multi-level perspective.

Keyword
Transitions; Multi-level perspective; Economics of conventions; Conventions; Rules; Coordination
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-105796 (URN)
Note

QS 2012

Available from: 2012-11-27 Created: 2012-11-27 Last updated: 2012-11-27Bibliographically approved
6. Conventional regimes: Part II: A case study of German plastic waste management from a conventional perspective
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Conventional regimes: Part II: A case study of German plastic waste management from a conventional perspective
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This article analyses the evolution of German plastic waste management technologies. Using insights from the economics of conventions, we investigate why the course of events led action to transpire in a specific way, when in the same conditions different actions may have occurred. The development of feedstock recycling niche was heavily affected by the political objectives of the regime. The establishment of these objectives were in turn influenced by actors’ games played out within the regime, in the context of the prevailing conventional principles and conventional objectives which regulate human action. In addition to market forces, the decline of feedstock recycling can then be related to its role as a strategy which was not in keeping with the strict interpretation of the prevention and valorisation principles, whose articulation formed the core principles ofthe German waste management regime.

Keyword
Economics of conventions; Conventions; Coordination; Innovation; Waste management; Plastic waste
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-105798 (URN)
Note

QS 2012

Available from: 2012-11-27 Created: 2012-11-27 Last updated: 2012-11-27Bibliographically approved
7. Coordination in European waste management regimes: the role and legitimacy of the waste hierarchy
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Coordination in European waste management regimes: the role and legitimacy of the waste hierarchy
Show others...
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This article considers the legitimacy of the waste hierarchy in the context of European waste management regimes. Pragmatic sociology and the economics of conventions are drawn upon to understand how actors legitimate action. The waste hierarchy is placed in the context of the plural systems of legitimacy actors utilise when justifying action. Empirical data from semi-structured interviews with national and local level actors in England and France are used to identify the plural legitimacies which underpin action in waste management regimes, and which actors utilise to justify their use of the waste hierarchy. This data suggest the waste hierarchy is as a principle of coordination justified as both an expression of the environmental efficiency of waste treatment options, and whose implementation is the result of a legitimate policy making process at the European level. The article concludes with a discussion of the qualification and evolution ofthe waste hierarchy.

Keyword
Waste management, waste policy, waste hierarchy, coordination, justification, legitimacy
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-105800 (URN)
Note

QS 2012

Available from: 2012-11-27 Created: 2012-11-27 Last updated: 2012-11-27Bibliographically approved
8. The legitimacy of life cycle assessment in the waste management sector
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The legitimacy of life cycle assessment in the waste management sector
2015 (English)In: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, ISSN 0948-3349, E-ISSN 1614-7502Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: Life cycle assessment (LCA) is commonly presented as a tool for rational decision-making. It has been increasingly used to support decision-making in situations where multiple actors possess diverse, and sometimes conflicting, perspectives, values and motives. Yet, little effort has been placed on understanding LCA in a social framework of action. This paper aims to analyse the legitimacy of LCA in public sector decision-making situations, the criticisms presented against LCA, and suggest potential ways to alleviate these criticisms.

Methods: This study consists of a case study of the application of LCA in the waste management sector in England and France. To gain an understanding of the justification and criticism of LCA, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with national and local level waste management actors. The justifications and criticism of the application of LCA was analysed through an analytical framework, the economies of worth.This suggests that in situations of disagreement, actors’ justifications are required to show their attachment to plural forms of common good. This work analyses the orders of worth in which justifications and criticisms of the application of LCA were based.

Results and discussion: LCA is applied primarily as a test of environmental efficiency, illustrating a collaboration between the industrial and green orders of worth. Actors apply LCA with the aspiration of replicating the scientific method and producing robust evidence to support the most efficient waste treatment option. In this case, efficiency is coupled with the green order of worth, where gains in efficiency mean lower environmental impacts. Internal criticisms of LCA, based in the industrial order of worth, highlights the limitations of LCA to act as a test of environmental efficiency. Furthermore, criticism based in the civic order of worth highlights the friction which arises in decision-making situations when LCA has been seen to subjugate the civic nature of waste management decisions.

Conclusions: One potential way forward for LCA may be to introduce aspects relevant in the civic order of worth which aims at achieving a compromise between the industrial and civic orders of worth. Envisioning LCA as a process-oriented tool, as opposed to an outcome-oriented tool, can allow for aspects on public involvement in the LCA process, thereby increasing its civic legitimacy.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Springer, 2015
Keyword
Life cycle thinking, Life cycle assessment, waste, justification, legitimacy
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-105801 (URN)10.1007/s11367-015-0884-9 (DOI)
Note

QC 20160226

Available from: 2012-11-27 Created: 2012-11-27 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved

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