Frequently Asked Questions

1. FAQs on the eco-costs:

1.1 Is there a simple way to explain to non-experts what eco-costs are?

1.2 What is the difference between damage costs, (marginal) prevention costs and shadow prices?

1.3 When do you apply the eco-costs per kilogram tables and when the eco-costs per € (i.e. the EVR tables)?

1.4 Eco-costs have been calculated for The Netherlands and Europe, can they be applied to countries with a total other economic structure, like China?

1.5 The eco-costs of electricity are based on the costs of replacing current energy systems by renewable energy systems. How do these eco-costs fluctuate with the price of oil?

1.6 A system of tradable emission rights of CO2 has been introduced recently within the European Union. Does that effect the eco-costs of CO2 and/or the EVR of a product? And if so, in what way?

1.7 How are the eco-costs calculated of the different types of wood (especially tropical hardwood)?

1.8 How are the eco-costs calculated of materials depletion?

2. FAQs on LCA:

2.1 How to handle the sequestration (=capture and storage) of CO2 in wood?

2.2 How to deal with quality aspects with regard to the functional unit?

2.3 How to deal with transport of freight with a low density in standard software like Simapro and Cambridge Engineering Selector (CES)?

2.4 How to handle waste that can be burned, e.g. wood and plastics (in all stages of LCA, especially in End of Life)?

2.5 How to deal with recycling of plastics in End of Life?

2.6 How to deal with recycling of metals in End of Life?

2.7 What is better: to deal with recycling at the end of the chain (EoL) or at the beginning?

2.8 How to deal with downcycling (e.g. waste paper)?

2.9 The Idemat and Ecoinvent tables show data for electricity of an offshore windfarm in Denmark, how to deal with windenergy in other parts of the world?

2.10 The Idemat and Ecoinvent tables show specific data for solar electricity of PV panels in Switserland, how to deal with PV cells in other parts of the world?

3. FAQs on EVR:

3.1 Are there examples on the EVR on governmental level?

ANSWERS:

 

1.1 Is there a simple way to explain to non-experts what eco-costs are?

Eco-costs is a measure to express the amount of environmental burden of a product on the basis of prevention of that burden. It are the costs which should be made to reduce the environmental pollution and materials depletion in our world to a level which is in line with the carrying capacity of our earth.
For example: for each 1000 kg CO2 emission, one should invest 135,- in offshore windmill parks (or other CO2 reduction systems at that price or less). When this is done consequently, the total CO2 emissions in the world will be reduced by 50% (1990 is 100%). As a result global warming will stabilise. In short: "the eco-costs of 1000kg CO2 are 135,-".
Similar calculations can be made on the environmental burden of acidification, eutrification, summer smog, dust, and the use of heavy metals, fossil fuels and land (nature).

The eco-costs of a product are the sum of all eco-costs of emissions and use of materials during the life cycle "from cradle to grave". The widely accepted method to make such a calculation is called Life Cycle Analyses (LCA), which is basically a mass and energy balance, strictly defined in the ISO 14000 series.
The practical use of eco-costs is to assess the sustainability of alternative product types.

The advantage of eco-costs is that its meaning can easily be understood, and the calculation of it is transparent. Most other systems to express environmental burden are damage based, having the disadvantage of rather subjective weighting of the relative importance of the many different types of damage.

 

1.2 What is the difference between damage costs, (marginal) prevention costs and shadow prices?

There are three ways to express the sum of all types of environmental burden in terms of money:

- the 'damage costs', based on the damage which is caused, also referred to as 'external costs'
- the 'prevention costs', based on the prevention of the burden, direct in the production system
or indirect elsewhere in the economy (e.g. windmills park at sea), also referred to as 'hidden costs'
- the 'shadow prices', based on the economic optimum (paying for prevention or paying for damage)

The concept of damage costs is most suitable to make people (and politicians) aware of the glooming situation of our planet. However it is hardly possible to calculate the damage costs.
As an example: CO2 emissions > CO2 concentration > increase in temperature > all effects > the sum of the costs for each effect.
Especially the damage costs of nature are hard to establish, since these costs can not be valued (different people will allocate different costs to the same damage).
An interesting issue is that all damage based systems (also in "points") suffer from this unsolvable problem: who decides "what is more serious than what"? Are the norms and values of an expert panel leading? Or political preferences? Or the opinions of people in the street? This issue is well described in the system of eco-indicator '99.
For damage to human life the 'QUALY' (quality adjusted life years) might be applied. This norm has been introduced by the WHO, and is widely accepted in the medical profession to assess whether or not a treatment is too expensive.

The concept of the prevention costs is most suitable to make business people aware of the fact that a product may become too expensive in future in comparison with the green alternative (because of eco-tax or tradable emission rights).
This indicator is suitable for people who are convinced that "something has to be done", but wonder what it will cost. They are aware that environmental protection should be realised in the most costs-effective way.
Calculation of prevention costs is not simple, but doable.
As an example: max. stable CO2 concentration > max. CO2 emissions > costs of the technical measures to reduce the current emissions.
The weak spot in the prevention based calculation is the level at which the concentration has to be reduced. For some emissions this level is zero which means that the substance must be banned (examples; DDT, CFKs), but for many substances there is a 'no effect level' which is higher than zero. This level, at which the damage costs are per definition zero, is sometimes under heavy scientific debate (example: dust). Note that this debate is about uncertainties ('risks') and natural background levels, and is not about costs.

The concept of shadow prices is an approach of some economists. The idea is that prevention measures must be taken when the prevention costs are lower than the damage costs. However, when the damage costs are lower than the prevention costs, one should accept the damage. The shadow price is the point where the damage line crosses the prevention line. See Fig. 7.1.
The problem of this concept is threefold:

1. It is hardly possible to determine the costs-curve of damage
2. It only can work for damage to human lives under the following condition: the money involved is
  transferred from the party which causes the emissions to the people who suffer from it. It cannot
  work for damage to nature (since loss of nature cannot be compensated with money)
3. Since the level of 'willingness to accept compensation' is much lower for poor people than for rich
  people, it is not possible to put a price tag on it.

A proposed way out is that the party which causes the emission pays to the government. The price is then determined by politics. However is this system politicians appear to judge on the basis "is it affordable for the industry?", resulting in a price which is far to low (the 'willingness to pay' is usually a factor 10 lower than the 'willingness to accept compensation').
Concluding: the shadow price is not an acceptable concept, since it doesn't work in practice and seems to be morally wrong.

 

1.3 When do you apply the eco-costs per kilogram tables and when the eco-costs per € (i.e. the EVR tables) ?

The data on eco-costs are provided on the basis of physical dimension (kg, m3, etc.) as well as on the basis of the price (i.e. the EVR).
In general, the choice is made along the following guide lines (use your common sense as well):
1. when you know the 'direct' kilograms or MW, use them ('direct' is used for the main flow of materials and the required energy, from cradle to grave)
2. for the 'indirect' inputs, the ratios of eco-costs per € (EVR) must preferably be used ('indirect' inputs are services, the use of facilities and equipment, transport, etc.); the reason is that the LCAs of that indirect inputs are complex and full of allocation issues, which preferably can be resolved by economic allocation

The following advise is given on "strategies to find prices of products with missing or distorted markets" (table from Handbook on Life Cycle Assessment, see tab data, references: 5.1):

Problem Solution
1. Market prices not known Look for public sources, preferably FOB (Free On Board) prices
2. Fluctuating prices Use three-year averages, or use prices at futures market
3. Inflation No problem, as long as the same base year is used in each process
4.
Trends in real prices No problem, as long as the same base year is used in each process
5.
Different currencies in different processes No problem, as long as the same currency is used in each process
6.
Locally diverging prices
Choose prices at relevant process locations or calculate averages for the relevant region
7. Market prices available only further downstream Use gross sales value method
8. Partially missing prices Construct prices from costs and known prices
9. Economically based market distortions (e.g., Monopolies) Use actual market prices, correct in very exceptional cases only
10. Regulations-based market distortions Accept prices as they are, use value or cost of close alternative for missing market prices
11. Tax-like financing of activity (e.g., Sewer systems) Treat as 'missing market, public provision'
12. Taxes and subsidies on products Use the price the seller actually receives
13. Taxes and subsidies on activities Do not correct for taxes and subsidies on activities.
14. In-firm prices not known Use gross sales value method
15. Missing markets with public provision Construct prices based on costs
16. Developing markets for recycling products Use current prices of similar products to specify the price of future recycled products
17. Markets not yet in existence Use expected future market prices

 

1.4 Eco-costs have been calculated for The Netherlands and Europe, can they be applied to countries with a total other economic structure, like China?

Marginal prevention costs are related to best practices in terms of clean production: BATNEC, Best Available Technology not entailing Excessive Cost.
BATNEC is an important political instrument to implement clean production systems, since it is a logical argument that "industry should do its best" to prevent environmental pollution.

What to do with environmental protection in countries outside Europe is a moral choice.
The article in which the virtual pollution prevention costs was introduced as a new single indicator for LCA (see tab data, references: 1.2), ended with the following "call for comments":
(quote) …………
3. Especially for developing countries, it is possible to make a quick estimate of the pollution prevention costs (1. assess the regional environmental problems; 2. make a list of measures to be taken; 3. determine the marginal prevention costs for each class). This could result in a set of data for each different regions.
Such a calculation model however makes sense only when the Life Cycle Inventory of emissions does take into account the region where the emission occurs, which adds quite some complications to the current LCA methodology. Do you feel there is a need for such an enhancement of the LCA methodology? Why and for which type of situations? Or do you feel that the LCA methodology should be kept simple?
4. The underlying idea of point 3 is that the developing countries cannot afford the prevention measures of the western world, and they don't need them (because their emission levels are low). However one may argue differently: in order to gain maximum environmental protection, best practices in the field of prevention measures should be applied world wide and "export of environmental problems for economic reasons" should be suppressed. Such an approach would require world wide standards for prevention measures and/or prevention costs (in Euro or US $ per kg equivalent per class).
In such a model regions with high emissions will have a high economic burden to prevent these emissions, regardless of there own sustainability norms and there economic situation. As a consequence the western world has to subsidise the developing countries where necessary.
How should we arrive at such world wide norms? Do we expect then norms which will be totally different from the norms presented in this article, and if so why?

……………….(unquote)

Of the people who commented, 9 out of 10 said that they were in favour of the idea that eco-costs should be a world-wide norm, based on the heavily polluted regions which need the most strict and best technology (Los Angeles, London, Rotterdam, Tokyo, Rhurgebied, Turin, Beijing, Delhi, Calcutta, Cairo, Mexico City, etc.).
The underlying philosophy is (as an extreme example): when the automotive industry develops cars with low levels of pollution, it is not acceptable that old, heavy polluting, jeeps are used at Antarctica (even when concentration levels at Antarctica are still low).
Only 1 out of 10 people followed the argument that poor countries cannot afford the BATNEC costs, and therefore must have lower eco-costs norms in LCA.
The reaction on the last sentence of the call for comments was, that we should start with the European prevention costs, and find out later whether or not the standards are strict enough for the heavily polluted areas outside Europe.

Nevertheless it is interesting to make calculations on the marginal prevention costs in other regions (simplified calculations have been made in japan, South Korea and a Chinese local area). Background information for such calculations are given in the Thesis, Annex 2a, and answers on questions to a Chinese colleague.

 

1.5 The eco-costs of electricity are based on the costs of replacing current energy systems by renewable energy systems. How do these eco-costs fluctuate with the price of oil?

The eco-costs of electricity is not directly related to the price of oil.
The reason is that the marginal prevention costs is primarily based on the replacement of electricity from coal-fired power plants by electricity from windmills parks at sea (the most expensive solution on the road to sufficient CO2 reduction).
The costs of coal is approx. 20% of the costs of electricity from a windmill park at the sea. The costs of coal was relatively constant over the last 10 years and is highly realted with the actual costs of production and transport. Although speculation has increased the price of coal considerably in 2008, it is expected that this peak in coal prices will stabilise back to the production costs. So it is expected that the price of coal will just follow the general trend of price inflation, as the price of windmills from the sea will do. Therefore, de level of eco-costs of energy is relatively stable and will follow the price inflation.

 

1.6 A system of tradable emission rights of CO2 has been introduced recently within the European Union. Does that effect the eco-costs of CO2 and/or the EVR of a product? And if so, in what way?

The eco-costs of CO2 (0,135 € per CO2 equiv) are not influenced by any system to reduce pollution. The reason is that eco-costs of CO2 are marginal prevention costs (read the description under tab eco-costs, eco-costs of emissions). These marginal prevention costs are stable in time during the transition towards a sustainable society. This is depicted in Fig. 7.2 for the logical assumption that society will take the most cost-effective measures first.
So the marginal prevention costs (Euro/kg), being the slope of line b at the "norm for sustainability", will remain constant throughout the total transition process.

Note that the total prevention costs per kilogram of emission will change in time. This is shown as well in Figure7.2: the total prevention costs C (Euro) divided by the total emissions which are still to be tackled, E (kg) ,will change gradually: in the beginning the ratio C / E is rather low, at the end this ratio will grow to the ratio of the marginal prevention costs (the slope of line b).

The EVR of a product, however, will change in time:

1.

 

The first reaction is that the market price will tend to increase slightly by tradable emission rights, since It is likely that the tradable emission costs - paid by the manufacturing industry - will be transferred to a higher market price (value)

2,

The next reaction is that the manufacturing industry will reduce CO2 emissions (in order to reduce the tradable emission rights they have to pay), which will reduce the eco-costs of that product.

The result is that the eco-costs of products will gradually decrease, without much change in market price (value), provided that the price of the tradable emission rights will increase gradually over the years.

More theoretical information on "Governmental policies for sustainability: tax, tradable emission rights and subsidies" is provided in the Thesis Chapter 9.5.

 

1.7 How are the eco-costs calculated of the different types of wood (especially tropical hardwood)?

The calculations of eco-costs for wood are quite complex for two reasons:
1. the calculation of long distance transport (the dominant factor): some wood is transported after sawing and drying and some wood is transported before sawing and drying (transporting a lot of waste and water).
2. the conversion from "eco-costs for land-use in €/m2 land" to "eco-costs for land-use in €/kg dry lumber"

The calculation and its short explanation is given in Ecocosts calculation wood

 

1.8 How are the eco-costs calculated of materials depletion?

More information will soon be provided (a paper is in progress).

 

2.1 How to handle the sequestration (=capture and storage) of CO2 in wood?

Sequestration of CO2 in wood is a confusing subject. The 3 examples in LCA may lead to a better understanding of the issue.

1. The life cycle of a tree.
When you plant a tree, it will grow and capture CO2. However, at the End of Life, the tree will gradually decay and emit the same amount of CO2 by oxidation. This process of decay is often speeded up by aerobic bacteria. Therefore, planting trees as such does not work against long term climate change.
When the decay is caused by anaerobic bacteria, CH4 is emitted, which makes the situation much worse since CH4 is about 20 times more harmful for our climate then CO2.
However, when the tree is burned in a electrical power plant or used for bio fuels, the situation is different: fossil fuels are replaced by wood in a closed loop system, which is explained in point 3 below

2. The life cycle of Paper, with landfill as End of Life. See Fig. 7.3.
In the classical approach, the cycle of captured CO2 stays within the system boundary. There is no flow in, nor flow out of the system. So there is no need to take this captured CO2 in consideration.
In de new approach, captured CO2 enters the system when the tree grows, and leaves the system when the products of tree decay.
This new approach seem to cause some troubles in cascade recycling: when the paper (after it is used) is passed on to produce carton boxes, the captured CO2 inside the waste paper must be passed on to the boxes as well! When the boxes go to landfill after use, the captured CO2 must be passed to the landfill. Finally, the CO2 emission from the landfill must not be forgotten in the analysis. In doing so, the result is the same as in the classical approach.
However, in some old databases the captured CO2 seems to be allocated fully to the virgin paper, and not passed trough the system. The result is that it seems that it is better to harvest wood for virgin paper for the carton box, than to make the box from recycled paper! There is no doubt that such a conclusion is a misinterpretation of the reality.

In November 2009 It was decided by Ecoinvent to follow the IPCC in their decision in 2006 to apply the Classical LCA approach:
“biogenic CO2 is not counted in LCA”
The Ecoindicator ‘99 and the ReCiPe methods were adapted accordingly, so they became in line with the eco-costs system.
In the ILCD manual on LCA of 2010, the same approach is followed.

3. The life cycle of Paper, with the generation of electrical power as End of Life. See Fig. 7.4.
The difference with the previous LCA is that the End of Life stage generates energy (electricity). This electricity is flowing out of the system, giving negative eco-costs (since electricity flowing into the system has positive eco-costs). The generation of electrical power reduces the overall eco-costs of the system.
If there is a need to, the benefit might be allocated to the paper and to the boxes, preferably according to the ratio of the economic values of the paper and the boxes.

Another approach is to have the waste paper flow coming out of the system ("subcoal"), and count that as a benefit ("the eco-costs of avoided fossil fuels"). See Fig. 7.5.
In the classical approach (taking captured CO2 not into account), there is no complication.
Note: Most of the waste in The Netherlands, Germany and France is burned in waste incineration plants, generating electricity. The efficiency of incineration plants, however, is approx. 50- 55 % of the efficiency of a normal electrical power plant.

See also FAQ 2.4.
For practical End of Life data, see tab data , the Ecocosts 2007 LCA database.

For background information on carbon sequestration in forests, see tab Footprint -> cabon sequestration in wood

 

2.2 How to deal with quality aspects with regard to the functional unit?

Many practitioners of LCA-study struggle with the definition of the functional unit. One of the issues here is whether or not quality aspects must be part of that definition.
In general, the following is advised:
- For comparisons on the basis of eco-costs only, quality issues must be part of the definition of the functional unit, since the products which have to be compared must be identical and must have the same quality. As a result, such comparisons are only useful in the optimisation of the application of materials (example: the environmental analyses of the materials in a copy-machine)
- For comparisons on the basis of the EVR, quality aspects must be kept out of the definition of the functional unit, since quality is part of the value and not of the eco-costs. Such EVR comparisons are to be done in the case of innovation of products, services or total systems (example: the choice between a new building or renovation), since the quality is not the same these different solutions. Note: comparison on the bases of eco-costs only are not possible in these cases.

 

2.3 How to deal with transport of freight with a low density in standard software like Simapro and Cambridge Engineering Selector (CES)?

In most of the standard software packages, the data on transport are only given in the unit "ton.km". The reason is that all standard LCI databases (like Ecoinvent) only supply data on the basis of tonnes x km. It is, however, good to realise that the LCIs are calculated on the basis of a full load of the truck (or vessel, or plane) and an empty trip back, divided by the maximum load of the transport vehicle. When the density of the freight is relatively low, the truck is full at a maximum volume instead of a maximum weight. In such a case, a correction factor has to be applied, since the energy required for long distance transport is dependant on distance, shape and velocity, and hardly dependant on the weight.

The correction factor must be applied when the density is lower than:
- 160 kg/m3 for airfreight
- 320 kg/m3 for freight in a European standard truck + trailer
- 414 kg/m3 for freight in a standard truck + container (40 ft)
- 843 kg/m3 for freight in a standard 20 ft sea container (take this density for other sea freight as well)

The correction factor to be applied is
"break-even density" / "actual density"
under the condition that this factor is more than 1.

Then, the amount of ton.km for the input of Simapro or CES has to be calculated as follows:

"actual tonnes" x "actual km" x "break-even density" / "actual density"

Example: when 24 tons has to be transported by a standard European truck and trailer (24 tons = a full truck load for high densities), and the actual density is 160 kg/m3, the correction factor is 2. This means that the truck must drive two times to transport this freight. The eco-burden per ton.km of this transport is 2 times the eco-burden per tkm of high density freight.

Note:
The assumption that the average load factor (=occupation) is 50% (the truck is full, but is empty back, on average) is realistic in practice. It is obvious that, from environmental point of view, it must be avoided that the truck is not fully loaded. If this is not the case in a typical situation, a multiplier must be applied in LCA to cope with the partly loaded truck. When, in special cases, the trip of the truck can be combined with other freight on the trip back, the so called "economic allocation" of the eco-burden of round trip of the truck must be applied (which will result in an multiplier less than one for the ton.km).

 

2.4 How to handle waste that can be burned, e.g. wood and plastics (in all stages of LCA, especially in End of Life)?

Waste that can be burned is dealt with in LCA by "system expansion". See Fig. 7.6. The basic idea is to add an extra step to the chain (the blue step in Fig. 7.6), where the waste is burned, either in a electrical power plant or in a municipal waste incinerator. To calculate the gross heat, the Lower Heating Value of the waste has to be applied (ISO 14044).
The following efficiencies are to be applied in the eco-costs system (the best practice in Western Europe):
- 45% to convert the LHV to electricity in a power plant for use in manufacturing plants (medium voltage, i.e. 1 KV to 35 kV, power supply in the range of 160 kWh to 40.000 kWh)
- 25% (= 55% of 45%) to convert the LHV to electricity in a municipal waste incinerator, medium voltage
- 95% to convert heat input to heat output.

The moisture content (MC) in wood must be evaporated, leading to the following net LHV values:
- 20 MW per kg dry wood (this is an average for softwood, the LHV for hardwood is approx. 10% higher)
- 17,3 MW per kg wood MC 12%, wood in houses (= 0,88 x 20 - 0,12 x 2,25 MW per kg)
- 8,9 MW per kg wood MC 50%, fresh wood (=0,5 x 20 - 0,5 x 2.25 MW per kg)
For other moisture contents, the LHV formula (MW/kg) is: 'weight per kg' x (1 - 'moisture comtent') x 20 - 'weight per kg' x 'moisture content' x 2,256

Since wood is a natural product, the CO2 (and SO2) emissions of combustion are not counted in the eco-costs system (see FAQ 2.1) : these emissions are part of a closed loop when the wood stems from plantations (which is the case for European wood types).

For combustion of plastics, the situation is basically the same, see Fig. 7.7. The difference with wood is that most of the plastics which are applied in products are based on fossil fuels. Therefore the eco-costs of CO2 must be counted. The result is that the positive effect of the generation of electricity (or heat) is counterbalanced by the CO2 emissions. The net result for electrical power plants is slightly positive for some plastics, but negative for many others. See the Excel File on eco-costs for Products, tab Idemat and Ecoinvent. For municipal waste incineration, the result is always negative, because of the lower efficiency. So burning plastics is a municipal waste incinerator is not a good solution for the environment: plastics should be recycled.
When plastics are made from renewable resources ("bio-plastics"), combustion is a good option (since the CO2 is not counted, like wood).

Note that combustion is a better solution than uncontrolled bio-degrading, since uncontrolled bio-degrading has the risk of CH4 emissions (a greenhouse gas, 20-25 times stronger than CO2). There are two types of controlled bio-degrading:
a. Controlled bio-degrading by anaerobic bacteria in a closed storage tank, where the CH4 is collected and burned. For small rural communities in the 3rd world, this seems to be a good local solution to generate methane for cooking. In the Western world it seems to be that it is not a good solution, since the overall eco-efficiency is lower than combustion in an electrical power plant.
b. Controlled bio-degrading by aerobic bacteria in a closed building, where the CH4 emissions are minimised and captured. This method is applied in Western Europe (the Netherlands, UK, Germany, etc.) for municipal waste. In countries like the Netherlands, there is more compost production than the local market can absorb, so there is a tendency to limit compost production and use the biomass for combustion.

Note: The Ecoinvent database in combination with the Ecoindicator 99 and Recipe has the characteristics that the benefit of combustion of wood cannot be taken at End of Life. The debate is that this would result in double counting, since biomass is already taken into account at the "market mix" of electricity. From macro-ecologic point of view this is right. However, the issue is that LCA is normally applied to micro-ecologic issues: when a designer decides on wood since it can be burned at the EoL, it is a good decision as such, regardless of the fact what happens on average in Europe. It is an issue of applying marginal instead of integral mass-balances.
The eco-costs system is meant to be for designers, purchasers, business people and consumers who have to take their marginal decisions. Therefore, the eco-costs system incorporates the positive effect of combustion of wood at the EoL stage.

 

2.5 How to deal with recycling of plastics in End of Life?

Most of the thermoplastics can be recycled. This can be dealt with by "system expansion" in the End of Life stage, like combustion of waste of the previous question. See Fig. 7.8.
Since the Life Cycle Chain ends at the recycling step, the production of recycled ("upcycled") plastic is output to the general market for plastics (this is a so called "open loop system", where plastics are having their second, or even third, life in another product). The advantage is that the recycled plastics will replace the "virgin" plastics, so overall less plastic will be made out of fossil oil.
In the eco-costs system we call that the "recycling creditt" = (eco-costs of recycled plastics) - (eco-costs of virgin plastics). These eco-costs are negative (having a positive effect of the total eco-costs of the chain).

A list of the eco-costs of recycling benefit of plastics is provided at the Excel File on eco-costs for Products, tab Idemat and Ecoinvent.

Note 1: Recycling of plastics can only be done efficiently in big volumes. Therefore, a "closed loop system", where the plastics are used for the same product (don't enter the market) is not a realistic option for the vast majority of the design cases.
Note 2: Recycling without loss of quality is only possible when a plastic is not contaminated with another type of plastic and when the material has no coulor. Upcycling is possible for the full range of plastics by "hydrocracking", however, this solotion is energy intensive and expensive.
Note 3: Instead of dealing with recycling at the end of the chain (EoL), one can deal with recycling at the beginning of the chain, see FAQ 2.7.

 

2.6 How to deal with recycling of metals in End of Life?

The situation for metals seems on the first sight similar to the situation of plastics (see Fig. 7.8). However, there is a complicating factor. Since the lifespan of metal products is rather long, the "hold-up" of materials in the use phase of system must be taken into account. See Fig. 7.9.

The issue is that the demand of metals has been growing for the last decades, and is expected to grow further. Take the example of stainless steel of Fig. 7.9:
- the average residence time of the steel in the use phase is approx. 20 years
- nearly 100% of the stainless steel is being recycled (since it is an expensive material)
- however, 100% of the production of stainless steel 20 years ago, is about 40% of the current demand

It is therefore far from realistic to state that "100% is recycled, so we take only the eco-costs of recycled stainless steel". A far more realistic approach is that we take the "market mix" (40% recycled, 60% virgin), and calculate the eco-costs of that mix.

There is, however, a logic exception on the rule to take the market mix: in cases where the system is really "closed loop". This is in some cases feasible, since the material is expensive and recycling is relatively easy. The actual system mix of virgin and recycled materials has to be applied then.

Note. In the Excel file for Products there are some lines with the eco-benefit of recycling. However, apply these lines with care:
- either, take at the beginning of the chain virgin materials only
- or, apply the eco-benefit data only to the virgin part of the market mix (avoiding double counting)

 

2.7 What is better: to deal with recycling at the end of the chain (EoL) or at the beginning?

The paradigm of the classical LCA expert is that recycling is part of the End of Life stage.
However, another approach is to be preferred: dealing with recycling at the beginning of the chain. See Fig. 7.10, The issue is that recycling is forming a loop, and it is a matter of choice where to cut the loop: at the point where the recycled material is still waste, or at the point where the waste has been upcycled.
In the example of the plastics of FAQ 2.5, the shift of paradigm can be explained by the following two equations, describing the total eco-costs of a chain for the case of 100% recycling:
- equation 1: (eco-costs of virgin plastics) + (eco-costs of production) + (eco-costs of use phase) + {(eco-costs of recycling)- (eco-costs of virgin plastics)}
- equation 2: (eco-costs of recycled plastics) + (eco-costs of production) + (eco-costs of use phase) + 0

Equation 1 and 2 have the same result. The difference is that equation 1 has the benefit of recycling at the end of the chain (according to the old paradigm), and equation 2 has the benefit at the beginning of the chain (the new approach).
The advantage of the new approach is:
- it is better for systems with considerable hold-up in the use phase, or other complex situations (the "market mix" issue of metals in FAQ 2.6)
- it fits better to the resposibility of the designer or purchaser: their choice has a direct effect, instead of shifting responsibilities to the end-users in future.

Note: Important players like Ecoinvent and CES adapted the "market mix" approach. However, in LCA handbooks and in other literature, still complex formulas are proposed, which basically stem from the old paradigm.

 

2.8 How to deal with downcycling (e.g. waste paper)?

The waste paper products are 'additional applications' in the paper chain. It does make sense to give this additional application no eco-burden of its material source, nor credits for End of Life (incineration). In other words: allocate the eco-burden of the pulp and the credit of the incineration to the virgin paper (= the primary product) . The eco-burden of such a secondary product is only its transport, processing, use and waste processing (without the credit of combustion). See Fig. 7.11

The same principle may be applied to other examples of real downcycling such as:
" road street furniture pressed from coloured thermoplastics
" aggregate from concrete
" debris as foundation for roads
" compost

 

2.9 The Idemat and Ecoinvent tables show data for electricity of an offshore windfarm in Denmark, how to deal with windenergy in other parts of the world?

These data are valid for offshore regions with windclass 6 or 7.(at 80m height).
Global maps for 80 m (as well as 10 m) are given at http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/winds/global_winds.html

Another issue is the size of the windmill in the case of an inland location. Under the assumption that the capacity factor is 0.20, the eco-costs (euro/kWh) have been calculated for the 4 windmills which are available in the Ecoinvent database. See the Fig. 7.12 for eco-costs, 'normalised' at a capacity factor of 0.20. (Note a capacity factor of 0.20 is a normal design criterion for onshore windmills in areas with windclass 3 and more)

 

2.10 The Idemat and Ecoinvent tables on eco-burden show specific data for solar electricity of PV panels in Switserland, how to deal with PV cells in other parts of the world?

The key to translation of the Swiss data to other areas are maps on solar irradiation (also called insolation). There are 3 types of maps:
- maps on the irradiation on the flat horizontal surface
- maps on the irradiation on a (fixed) tilted panel
- maps on 'peak sun hours' (often presented for the worst month of the year), often for fixed tilted panels

When we assume that the Swiss panels are located in the middele of Switserland (near the city of Bern), the irradiation is approximately 1350 kWh/m2 per year.
The first orde approximation of the eco-costs (in euro/kWh) at any other location on earth is

eco-costs of electricity from PV panels (euro/kWh) = 0.0164 x 1350/(annual local irradiation)

in which the annual local radiation is expressed in kWh/m2

The same applies to the carbon Footprint, the CED and Recipe Points.

There are detailed maps of irradiation on tilted panels for each country within the EU, see http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pvgis/cmaps/eur.htm .
The annual irradiation in The Netherlands ranges from 1200 (kWh/m2) in the North - West of the country to 1100 (kWh/m2) in the South - East.
Deatiled horizontal irradiation maps for Africa are available as well on the EU website http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pvgis/cmaps/afr.htm
A good overview of all countries around the globe is given for horizontal irradiation at http://www.helpsavetheclimate.com/solar.html

 

3.1 Are there examples on the EVR on governmental level?

All examples on this website are on product level, i.e. the website describes what to do with innovation of products and services.
However, the first ideas to make analyses by means of (marginal) prevention costs were developed by environmental economists (the so called input-output tables for macro-economic analyses). The Delft University of Technology combined these ideas later with the LCA method, and made the EVR concept operational for designers.
So applications on governmental level are older than applications on product level. Obviously, the method of input-output tables and the method of EVR still influence each other.

A recent example is the EIPRO study of the European Commission (EIPRO = environmental impact of products). Data from this study have been combined with the EVR system, resulting in Fig. 7.13.
This figure depicts the EVR at the level of the EU25 (25 countries of the European Union):
X-axis: the cumulative expenditures of all products and services of all citizens
  (categorised in 100 different types)
Y-axis: the EVR (= the ecocosts per euro 'real money') of the 100 types of expenditures

The area underneath the curve is proportional to the total eco-costs of the EU25.

Basically there are two strategies to reduce the area under the curve:
- ask industry to reduce the eco-costs of their products (this will shift the curve downward)
- try to reduce expenditures of consumers in high end of the curve, and let them spend this money at the low end of the curve (this will shift the middle part of the curve to the right)

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