Modified Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of End-of-Life Options for Post-Consumer Products in Urban Regions

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The environmental impact of consumer goods is becoming a growing concern in the modern world. With the increasing awareness of our daily impact and our effects on such crises as global warming, there has been a recent push to develop improved environmental strategies and new industries focused on sustainability and the recycling of a variety of post-consumer goods. In other words, there is a shift towards turning waste into money in the name of the environment. Urban regions provide the perfect setting for such development. The concentration of post-consumer waste makes the mining of recyclable materials economical and the availability of labor needed to support the emerging sustainable industries sets the stage for social, economic and environmental benefits.

There are currently several end-of-life (EOL) options for post-consumer products. EOL scenarios include material reclamation, secondary material reclamation, repurpose material reclamation, and waste disposal. Within each of these EOL scenarios exists a myriad of process permutations ranging from various collection schemes and modes of transportation to material processing standards and new recycled-content product industries. Due to the variety of EOL options for post-consumer products, there is no straight-forward answer to the question – Which EOL option is preferred? Thus, under the guidelines of Life Cycle Assessment as standardized by the International Organization of Standardization in the ISO14040: Environmental Management series, with the inclusion of social and economic indicators as well, the various EOL scenarios are compared in several impact categories including energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, criteria pollutants, solid waste generation, social implications and economic viability. The results of this comparative analysis provide insight into the potential of a more sustainable urban environment, which is part of a much larger goal of reducing our daily impact on the world around us.

One industry sector that contributes to a rather large amount of post-consumer trash each year, nearly 4.7 billion tons, is the carpet industry. According to the Environmental Protection Agency Carpet occupies a great percentage of overall dedicated landfill waste space, nationally 1% by weight and 2% by volume. Within an urban environment, the burden of such a bulky waste product is more evident; thus carpet is used here as a case study for the social, economic and environmental impacts of material mining in urban regions for the improvement of overall industrial sustainability. A comparative EOL study is conducted to assess the social, economic and environmental effects of material reclamation, secondary material reclamation, repurpose material reclamation, and waste disposal strategies of post-consumer carpet within the thirteen county urban region of Atlanta, Georgia.