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LCA application to integrated waste management planning in Gipuzkoa (Spain)


Goal, Scope and Background

Gipuzkoa is a department of the Vasque Country (Spain) with a population of about 700,000 people. By the year 2000 approximately 85% of municipal solid waste in this area was managed by landfilling, and only 15% was recycled. Due to environmental law restrictions and landfill capacity being on its limit, a planning process was initiated by the authorities. LCA was used, from an environmental point of view, to assess 7 possible scenarios arising from the draft Plan for the 2016 time horizon.

Main Features

In each scenario, 9 waste flows are analysed: rest waste, paper and cardboard, glass containers, light packaging, organic-green waste, as well as industrial/commercial wood, metals and plastics, and wastewater sludge. Waste treatments range from recycling to energy recovery and landfilling.


Recycling of the waste flows separated at the source (paper and cardboard, glass, light packaging, organic-green waste, wood packaging, metals and plastics) results in net environmental benefits caused by the substitution of primary materials, except in water consumption. These benefits are common to the 7 different scenarios analysed. However, some inefficiencies are detected, mainly the energy consumption in collection and transport of low density materials, and water consumption in plastic recycling. The remaining flows, mixed waste and wastewater sludge, are the ones causing the major environmental impacts, by means of incineration, landfilling of partially stabilised organic material, as well as thermal drying of sludge. With the characterisation results, none of the seven scenarios can be clearly identified as the most preferable, although, due to the high recycling rates expected by the Plan, net environmental benefits are achieved in 9 out of 10 impact categories in all scenarios when integrated waste management is assessed (the sum of the 9 flows of waste). Finally, there are no relevant differences between scenarios concerning the number of treatment plants considered. Nevertheless, only the effects on transportation impacts were assessed in the LCA, since the plant construction stage was excluded from the system boundaries.


The results of the study show the environmental importance of material recycling in waste management, although the recycling schemes assessed can be improved in some aspects. It is also important to highlight the environmental impact of incineration and landfilling of waste, as well as thermal drying of sludge using fossil fuels. One of the main findings of applying LCA to integrated waste management in Gipuzkoa is the fact that the benefits of high recycling rates can compensate for the impacts of mixed waste and wastewater sludge.

Recommendations and Outlook

Although none of the scenarios can be clearly identified as the one having the best environmental performance, the authorities in Gipuzkoa now have objective information about the future scenarios, and a multidisciplinary panel could be formed in order to weight the impacts if necessary. In our opinion, LCA was successfully applied in Gipuzkoa as an environmental tool for decision making.

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Correspondence to Ivan Muñoz or Joan Rieradevall or Xavier Doménech or Llorenç Milà.

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Muñoz, I., Rieradevall, J., Doménech, X. et al. LCA application to integrated waste management planning in Gipuzkoa (Spain). Int J LCA 9, 272 (2004).

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  • Integrated waste management
  • mixed waste
  • recycling
  • transport
  • wastewater sludge