Life cycle based approaches in assessing waste management options in the Finnish context

Helena Dahlbo

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Amounts of waste are growing, non-renewable natural resources are becoming scarce and renewable resources are being over-consumed. To tackle these problems and to increase its economic competitiveness Europe has implemented waste strategies and the waste hierarchy to minimise waste generation and maximise waste recovery. Deviation from the hierarchy is acceptable if needed to reach the best environmental outcome. Life cycle (LC) based assessments are required to find environmentally and economically the most sustainable end-of-life and waste management (WM) solutions. In this study, Finnish waste flows and WM systems including waste or products from the forest sector were assessed with life cycle assessments (LCA), social life cycle costing (SLCC), environmental life cycle costing (ELCC) and material flow analyses (MFA). The aim was to evaluate whether results from LC-based environmental and economic assessments support the waste hierarchy order Finland and to find out whether the combination of approaches provides added value for decision-making. Normalisation as a tool to improve the understanding of life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) results was also studied. The results from the case-specific environmental and economic assessments did not clearly support the waste hierarchy order of WM options. Landfilling performed worse than recycling or incineration with energy recovery. In contrast, the use of recyclable packaging performed better than reusable packaging. Energy recovery of newspaper waste produced lower overall environmental impacts than recycling, the results varied in individual impact categories, however. In addition, the SLCC showed that due to its higher environmental costs, energy recovery was more expensive than recycling. The combined use of LC-based approaches revealed potentials for improving the performance of WM systems, e.g. the combination of MFA, LCA and ELCC identified the potential of different fractions for improving the overall performance of the WM system of construction and demolition waste (C&DW). Additionally, the joint assessment indicated that achieving the 70% recycling target for C&DW in 2020 requires major improvements in the system. The results indicated that regionally differing recycling targets may be required within Europe. The understanding of LCIA results was to some extent improved by including information on the LC approaches in the communication material for LCA non-practitioners. Also the use of different normalisation reference values increased had impact on the understandability. The impacts avoided due to the material or energy recovery of waste are one of the key factors in WM modelling, but changes in the operational environment and uncertainty about the future complicate this modelling and limit the applicability of the results. Changes in the energy sector and in the use of secondary materials might have conflicting effects on the environmental sustainability of WM and systemic assessments are required.
Translated title of the contributionElinkaaripohjaiset lähestymistavat jätehuoltovaihtoehtojen arviointiin Suomen kontekstissa
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Sorvari, Jaana, Supervising Professor
  • Seppälä, Jyri, Thesis Advisor, External person
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7957-8
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7958-5
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • life cycle assessment
  • life cycle costing
  • material flow analysis
  • normalisation
  • waste hierarchy
  • municipal solid waste
  • construction and demolition waste
  • wood

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