Are we still keeping it “real”? Proposing a revised paradigm for recycling credits in attributional life cycle assessment



End-of-life (EoL) recycling poses a challenge to many practitioners today due to the availability of different calculation approaches and the lack of scientific consensus, which is fueled by academic research and vested industry interests alike. One of the main challenges in EoL modeling is the credible calculation of the appropriate recycling credit in open-loop and closed-loop situations.


We believe that part of the challenge is caused by a lack of understanding of the underlying recycling paradigm, which refers to the meaning that is assigned to the recycling credit. Referred to as “system expansion through substitution” and “future displacement of primary production,” the two predominant paradigms are delineated from each other followed by a discussion of their remaining challenges.

Results and discussion

Based on these considerations, we propose a revised paradigm based on embodied burdens that is able to alleviate many of the most pressing issues associated with material recycling in attributional life cycle assessment.


With this discussion paper, we look forward to a productive and lively debate on the matter.

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  1. 1.

    The overall recycling rate (collection rate times recycling yield) of 80% does not lead to a credit of exactly 80% of the manufacturing burden in the example for neither scenario due to the way scrap inputs into the worldsteel inventories affect the mass flows under the net scrap approach (see the Electronic Supplementary Material).

  2. 2.

    From the perspective of the scrap-receiving producer, the price paid should cover more than just the collection, pre-treatment, distribution, and profit margin of the EoL value chain; first and foremost, there needs to be a cost associated with the material itself for the end-of-waste stage to be reached.


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Correspondence to Christoph Koffler.

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Responsible editor: Mary Ann Curran

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Koffler, C., Finkbeiner, M. Are we still keeping it “real”? Proposing a revised paradigm for recycling credits in attributional life cycle assessment. Int J Life Cycle Assess 23, 181–190 (2018).

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  • LCA
  • LCI
  • End-of-life
  • Recyling
  • Allocation