Preprint Article Version 1 This version not peer reviewed

Evaluating the Environmental Dimension of Material Efficiency Strategies Relating to the Circular Economy

Version 1 : Received: 15 December 2017 / Approved: 18 December 2017 / Online: 18 December 2017 (06:36:56 CET)

How to cite: Walker, S.; Coleman, N.; Hodgson, P.; Collins, N.; Brimacombe, L. Evaluating the Environmental Dimension of Material Efficiency Strategies Relating to the Circular Economy. Preprints 2017, 2017120112 (doi: 10.20944/preprints201712.0112.v1). Walker, S.; Coleman, N.; Hodgson, P.; Collins, N.; Brimacombe, L. Evaluating the Environmental Dimension of Material Efficiency Strategies Relating to the Circular Economy. Preprints 2017, 2017120112 (doi: 10.20944/preprints201712.0112.v1).

Abstract

Material efficiency is a key element of new thinking to address the challenges of reducing impacts on the environment and of resource scarcity, whilst at the same time meeting service and functionality demands on materials. Directly related to material efficiency is the concept of the Circular Economy, which is based on the principle of optimising the utility embodied in materials and products through the life cycle. Whilst steel, as a result of high recycling rates, is one of the most ‘circular’ of all manufactured materials, significant opportunities for greater material efficiency exist, which are yet to be widely implemented. In the field of Life Cycle Management, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is commonly used to assess the environmental benefits of recovering and recycling materials through the manufacturing supply chain and at end-of-life. As well as containing information to calculate environmental impacts, LCA models also provide the flows of materials through the product life cycle and can also be used to quantify material efficiency and the circularity of a product system. Using an example taken from renewable energy generation, this paper explores the correlation between product circularity and the environmental case for strategies designed to improve material efficiency. An LCA-based methodology for accounting for the recovery and re-use of materials from the supply chain, and at end-of-life, is used as the basis for calculating the carbon footprint benefits of five material efficiency scenarios. Resulting carbon footprints were then compared with a number of proposed material circularity indicators. Two conclusions from this exercise were that i) LCA methodologies based around end-of-life approaches are well placed for quantifying the environmental benefits of material efficiency and circular economy strategies and ii) when applying indicators relating to the circularity of materials these should also be supported by LCA studies.

Subject Areas

life cycle assessment; circular economy; material efficiency; recycling; reuse

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