Social life cycle assessment of innovative management schemes for challenging plastics waste

Elsevier, Sustainable Production and Consumption, Volume 37, May 2023
Ardolino F., Palladini A., Arena U.

The focus is on current and innovative management schemes of plastics waste coming from electric and electronic equipment, end-of-life vehicles, and construction and demolition waste. Their complex compositions, due to the presence of several polymers, different (also hazardous) additives, and non-plastics fractions, make difficult finding sustainable management options. The study aimed at an assessment of social performances of current management schemes for these challenging plastics, compared with those of alternative schemes, including advanced innovative process options (dissolution/precipitation, supercritical fluid extraction with CO2, catalytic pyrolysis). A social life cycle assessment was developed at European level, by also exploiting synergies with parallel environmental analyses. The results indicated that innovative solutions could lead to good performances for human health of workers, but also for improvement of economies of local communities and society. The still limited maturity of proposed technologies would require a sufficiently long period of economic incentives to demonstrate process validity in the recovery of polymers, suitable to be accepted by the market. Accordingly, the estimated potential social effects should be further studied when the proposed innovative processes will be implemented at larger scale, to include aspects strictly related to the behaviour of a specific company going beyond the single process. Results contribute to define a complete set of environmental and social data and information, which can help European decision makers to define new criteria for sustainable management of the waste plastics of interest.