EoL (End of Life) and Recycling in LCA

The circular economy

The cradle-to-cradle philosophy of the circular economy is about reducing waste to the absolute minimum.
A holistic approach is called “the butterfly diagram”, marketed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, see Fig 5.6a. The butterfly shows circularity in the “biosphere” at the left, and in the “technosphere” at the right. In the biosphere, most systems are circular as such, since mother nature is circular in the sense of “waste is food”. Our technosphere  tends to be more “linear”, that is to say that we manufacture products and discard them when we do not need them anymore. Such a behavior creates a lot of waste, and depletes our mother earth. The so called circular economy must stop this behavior.

It is perfectly possible to calculate the specific recycling routes in LCA, determine the advantages of specific routes, and make comparisons to select the best alternatives.

The main activities to eliminate waste are according to the butterfly:

  • Share, maintain and prolong
  • Reuse and redistribute
  • Refurbishing and Remanufacturing
  • Recycle the materials

Figure 5.6a The “butterfly”: a cradle-to-cradle philosophy for the technosphere and the biosphere

Another strategy is to shift to sustainable materials in the ‘bio sphere’. In terms of LCA there are two issues:

  • Recycle nutrients
  • Make use of the recycling of biogenic CO2 (the so-called ‘short cycle’ in nature via the air), since mother nature absorbs what it emits.  Therefore, biogenic CO2 is not counted in LCA (which is an IPCC decision that makes a lot of sense)